As a vet I strongly encourage all animal owners to microchip their pets. It is not only necessary for crossing boarders when travelling, but once every few weeks, somebody comes to our clinic with a found pet. By scanning the microchip that is no bigger than a rice grain sitting under the skin, we are able to retrieve an identification number assigned to the animal and then contact the owner and bring the pet back home. I am always relieved when the pet is chipped, otherwise it is a long search, stressful for the animal and the owner.
But what is the legal status of a microchip? If a dog or a cat is registered on your name, does it mean it belongs to you?
Unfortunately having your name and details on your pet’s microchip record, does not make you automatically the owner. Yes, it was a big disappointment to me too. If you let your cat stroll outside, it is likely she jumps over the fence to neighbour’s garden, have a meal there or even sleep over, when she feels like. It is easier to contain your dog in the garden, however pet theft or an accident (open gates, running away in heat) and your dog can also go missing.
In my knowledge there is no country in the world where a vet is obliged to scan a pet for a microchip to proof the ownership. Even if the client who brought a pet in the clinic is not the owner, the veterinarian needs the client’s consent to share information about the pet with the registered owner. There have been many cases when a pet brought in a clinic was registered as missing or stolen and veterinary staff informed the registered owner. Unfortunately by doing so veterinary doctor violates confidentiality of the client’s personal information and acts against the law.
There was a case in the UK, where a woman announced her 2.5 year old cat missing and 4 years later found her again through a vet. Obviously the people, who had the cat for the last 4 years did not want to give her away easily, because they felt she was part of their family after 4 years living at their place. The initial owner had to go to the civil court to prove her ownership. The court ruled for cat’s return to the original owner. This decision was met because the previous owner conducted search of the missing animal and there was no proof that the animal was previously neglected. However, it is not only the details on the microchip that matter, in case of dispute – veterinary bills, registration and licence at the municipality, pedigree registration, personal photos could back up your ownership. Other things that will be considered is how much time, money resources you can offer the pet. Any criminal, abuse offence, drug history would make your chances of custody lower.
In the UK alone an estimated 3,000 dogs are stolen each year and many are sold on to new owners. I believe, that re-registration of pets who are reported as missing or stolen should be made illegal, if the previous owner has not intentionally abandoned the pet or renounce his/her ownership. If you found a pet or even bought it, make sure it does not belong to another person, you would be thankful if your pooch finds way back home too.
I have never personally got into situation, where people would not return a found animal to the legitimate owner. So I still believe that microchipping is a great tool to reunite lost pets with their owners. But we should rise awareness and when registering new clients recheck pets for chips and the information provided.
Dogo – positive training team.