Wednesday 13 December 2017

Avoid the hassle of losing your cat or dog by making sure they’re microchipped

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

The issue of lost and straying pets is a perennial problem for our society. If you check any small town Facebook community page, you'll see at least one post a week about animals. Some posts will be about lost pets: a cat that didn't come home, or a dog that slipped out the front door when no one was looking.

Other posts will be about animals that have been found: a cat that has turned up in someone's garden, looking for food, or a dog that has been found wandering local roads, on its own. It's a significant issue: the animals who are lost are confused and hungry, and the people who are trying to help them can end up wasting many hours of their time.

Meanwhile the owners of missing pets are often distraught: their dog or cat is one of their family, and they just want them to be home and safe again. Animals can't talk and don't understand that people are worried about them, so they continue to randomly wander around until they are located, identified and returned to their owners.

As a vet, I am probably more aware of this issue than most, partly because our clinic is often contacted by people who have found stray dogs and don't know what to do with them.

What should happen if an unowned pet is found wandering?

The situation with dogs is straightforward: in Ireland, all dogs must be microchipped. When dogs are chipped, the problem of strays is easily sorted. Any animal that's found wandering just needs to be taken to the local vet or rescue centre: a quick scan with a microchip reader allows the owners name and contact details to be retrieved. They can then be alerted to the fact that their pet has been found, and that's the end of the saga.

It's more complicated if the dog is not microchipped, and sadly, we still see regular examples of this. In such cases, there's minimal hope of easily reuniting the animal with its owner. The dog warden needs to be called, and the dog is then taken to the local authority dog pound. After being double-checked for the presence of a microchip, the animal's details are noted, and it is placed into a kennel for the statutory five-day period.

If an owner phones the dog pound during the five days, they will be allowed to collect their pet, as long as they pay a collection fee and they also have their dog microchipped. If there's no sign of the owner after five days, the dog becomes the property of the state. In the past, most dogs were then euthanased, but in recent years, most pounds have developed relationships with local dog rescue groups.

Any dogs that have a reasonable chance of being rehomed are passed on to the rescue group (who are usually asked to pay a small fee, as well). The rescue group then get the dog microchipped, vaccinated and spay/neutered, and a new home is sought for the animal. The small number of dogs that are judged not to be easily rehomable (e.g. large, energetic, potentially dangerous animals) are still sometimes euthanased at the pound: there is a great deal of regional variation in how often this happens.

The government's local authority website publishes annual statistics that give details of the numbers of stray dogs that are collected, rehomed and euthanased for each local authority pound.

Some animal lovers are loathe to allow the dog warden to take a stray animal to the pound. This is partly because of the history of dogs often being euthanased after five days.

This is less common nowadays but it's still a possibility. It's also because a dog pound is not the best place for any dog to spend time: despite the best efforts of the staff, dog pounds tend to have a higher incidence of infectious diseases such as Parvovirus and Kennel Cough.

Any healthy, unprotected animal that visits a dog pound undergoes a significant risk that they will end up picking up one of these conditions.

For this reason, rescue groups sometimes prefer to hold onto stray dogs themselves, simply phoning the dog pound to let them know that the animal has been found, and that they are caring for it.

This ensures that if someone has lost their dog, and they contact the pound, they will still be informed of the dog's whereabouts. In such cases, the dog rescue group often rehomes the dog if it's not claimed, but it will not become the legal property of a new person until a full year has passed, so there is still a risk that the original owner may turn up to claim them.

At our vet clinic, we are often asked to hold onto stray dogs until their owner (hopefully) turns up, but we can't do this: we are obliged to stick strictly to the law, which means passing such animals on to the custody of the dog warden.

Cats are more complicated: there are no cat wardens, and no cat pounds: if a cat is microchipped, it can easily be returned to its owner, but otherwise, it's a case of trying via social media to find the original owner, and nothing more can be done. Many cats never find their owners.

After reading this article, you'll realise that the answer to the problem of lost and found pets is very simple: they should all be microchipped. When that's been done, the animal effectively carries a personal ID card wherever it goes, so it can never be lost. Microchipping is compulsory in dogs, but some people still evade the law, causing unnecessary problems for their pets and for other people.

If you care about your dog or cat, make sure they're microchipped.


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