It is now two years since the “Microchip Law” – actually, The Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 – came into force. The aim was definitely laudable:
“Not only will this mean the UK’s 8.5 million dogs can be returned to their owners more quickly if they wander too far from home, but it will also make it easier to track down the owners of dogs that carry out attacks on people.”
DEFRA, 6th April 2016
If you remember, at the time, many people were cynical. Some of the concerns were simple hysteria – that this was the first step towards microchipping people to control them, or that the microchips were bugs so the police could listen in to people’s private conversation (spoiler alert – they aren’t). However, there were some more reasonable worries – one commentator on the BBC summed up the worries of many people:
“If it won’t be enforced, which many new laws aren’t, what’s the point? Sensible dog owners already chip their dogs.”
Biffer, 6 April 2016
So, is the law working? Is it being enforced? Are our dogs spying on us? And ultimately, has it increased the number of dogs who are microchipped?
Is it being enforced?
Pets at Home recently made a Freedom of Information request about fines issued since the law came into place. One the surface, it does look like the law is being enforced – fines are coming in and there are prosecutions on record. However, when the data are broken down further, there are huge differences between local councils (you can read more and see the breakdown here).
The average fine per offense, for example, varies from £25 on the Isle of Wight (which also had the largest number of fines) to £1932.50 in the London Borough of Hounslow (who only had one).
The number of prosecutions is very variable too – while the Isle of Wight fined 34 people, they didn’t raise a single prosecution, while Coventry City Council prosecuted the most offenders – 19.
Overall, then, the enforcement of the law seems to be very patchy – but it is being enforced (and I suspect that at least one dog owner in London will be very careful to get their dogs chipped in future!).
Are our dogs spying on us?
Simple answer – no. Your mobile phone might well be, but not your dog’s microchip. A microchip does not contain a power source – it just reflects radio waves from the reader, modifying the “echo” to encode a number. While it would theoretically be possible to put a microphone inside a microchip, powering it would be really difficult. Likewise, we do not have the technology yet to put a GPS monitor inside a microchip and power it.
Finally, however, if the government really wanted to monitor us through microchips, they would have to provide their own chips, custom-made to their specifications. This has not happened – we’re still using the same suppliers we always have, many of whom are not UK based.
Bottom line – microchipping is safe for pets and for us!
Has it increased the number of dogs who have a microchip?
Well, here’s the great news – in 2013, only about 5 million dogs (about 60%) were microchipped. In 2015, less than a year before the law came into effect, the BVA reported that at most 75% of dogs seen by UK vets were chipped. However, in 2017 – a year after the ban – about 95% of dogs had a chip – so it seems that 1.6 million dogs received a chip as a direct result of the new law. Given that of the 43000 strays reunited with their owners by Dogs Trust in 2015-16, 20% of those would have been rehomed had they not been chipped, the more dogs that are chipped the better for everyone.
So, is the law working?
Essentially, yes. While Councils do need to keep working to pick up that last 5%, and the variability between areas suggests that some sort of unified guidance would be valuable, the increase in chipped dogs is a fantastic result.
Now, how about cats…??!!