Crackdown on Dangerous Dogs to Make Microchips Compulsory For All

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Crackdown on Dangerous Dogs to Make Microchips Compulsory For All

By Alan Travis on Guardian.co.uk
March 2010

"The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but there is no doubt that some people breed and keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others, in a sense using dogs as a weapon."

All dogs are to be compulsorily microchipped so that their owners can be more easily traced under a crackdown on dangerous dogs to be unveiled today.

The package will include extending the dangerous dogs law to cover attacks by dogs on private property to protect postmen, and making third-party insurance compulsory so that victims can be financially compensated.

The measures will be set out by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, who will point to rising public concern that "status dogs" are being used by some irresponsible owners to intimidate communities or as a weapon by gangs.

The RSPCA says the number of complaints about dog fights has risen 12-fold between 2004 and 2008. In London alone, police seized 900 dangerous dogs in the last year.

Johnson is expected to give details of the package in a speech on crime and antisocial behaviour.

"Britain is a nation of animal lovers, but people have a fundamental right to feel safe on the streets and in their homes," he said.

"The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but there is no doubt that some people breed and keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others, in a sense using dogs as a weapon."

He said ministers were determined to stamp this out. The crackdown has been endorsed by the environment secretary, Hilary Benn.

The package is expected to also include proposals to give police and councils more powers to tackle the problems of dangerous dogs by introducing dog control notices; consider removing exemption rules that allow some people to keep banned types of dogs; and introduce compulsory third-party insurance so victims of dog attacks are financially compensated.

Under the scheme a microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin of the dog between its shoulder blades. The chip contains a unique code number, the dog's name, age, breed and health as well as the owner's name, address and phone number. When the chip is "read" by a handheld scanner the code number is revealed and the details can be checked on a national database.

Many dog owners already microchip their dogs with the details logged on the national PetLog database. Vets, dog wardens and RSPCA branches offer the service at a cost of £10 to £35.

The practice appeals especially to those who take their dogs abroad. If the scheme were made compulsory owners would face a fine for failing to microchip their dogs. It is not known how the scheme will be phased in but it is assumed a "puppies first" approach will be adopted.

Four types of dog are banned under the dangerous dogs legislation, including pit bull terriers and Japanese tosas.

The ban means it is illegal to breed or keep one of these breeds unless a court places the animal on the exempted dog index and it is neutered, tattooed, microchipped, muzzled and kept on a lead in public.

Much of the legal framework stems from the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, which used to be held up as an example of the poor quality of legislation passed by MPs in haste but has actually proved a resilient and useful law over the past 19 years.

The Home Office said yesterday: "While this legislation is an essential tool in tackling antisocial behaviour, the government wants to look at it again to ensure it is working as it should and enables the police, local authorities and the RSPCA to take swift action to protect the public and stop abuse."

A Home Office grant of £20,000 is to be spent this year helping police forces train dedicated dog legislation officers to deal with dangerous dogs.

A leaked Whitehall discussion document on dog control legislation suggested that competence tests for dog owners would also be included. This sparked a storm of protest on the blogosphere among dog lovers and does not appear to have been included in the final version.

Benn said: "There is a lot of public concern about dog attacks, including the recent tragic deaths of young children, and about the rise in the number of so-called 'status dogs' used to intimidate or threaten people. This is a serious issue of public safety.

"The government wants to hear what people think about the law as it stands and what more we might do to protect people from dangerous dogs."

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, which represents postal workers, said: "This is a long-overdue, but extremely welcome step.

"We've been calling for changes to the law for several years now following some terrible dog attacks on postal workers."