By Karen Cornish
Five years’ worth of missing pet data from PetLog – the UK’s largest microchipping database – has revealed a 63% increase in missing pets during the summer months. This is why the month of July has been designated as National Lost Pet Prevention Month to help raise public awareness of the issues surrounding lost and stolen pets, and to educate people about how to keep their pets safe.
An estimated 2,760 dogs were reported stolen in 2022 according to Direct Line Pet Insurance with only 1 in 4 being found and returned to their pet parents. In addition to this, many dogs go missing every year after escaping from gardens, getting spooked on walks and bolting, or by chasing prey animals or potential mates.
There are lots of things that dog owners can do to prevent their pets from going missing. The more of these that are put into place, the lower the risk of a dog going missing and the higher the chance of them being reunited with their owner if they do.
Since April 2016 it has been a legal requirement in England, Scotland, and Wales for dogs to be microchipped by the time they are 8 weeks old or owners face a fine of £500. The reason behind making microchipping compulsory was to help tackle the huge numbers of stray and stolen dogs picked up each year by local authorities and animal shelters.
Microchipping is an effective form of permanent identification for pets. A microchip about the size of a grain of rice containing a unique code is injected just below an animal’s skin by a vet. When a chip is read using a hand-held scanner, it can be matched on a database to the current owner’s contact details. Microchipping is quick and painless, and can make reuniting a lost dog with its owner much easier.
Data from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home showed that 94% of stray dogs that were fully compliant with microchipping regulations were reunited by Local Authorities with their keepers. The numbers of dogs being dealt with by Local Authorities has reduced by 66% between 2016 and 2021 as vets and rescue charities are able to scan and reunited dogs with their owners quickly and without needing to involve the Local Authority.
However, microchips only work as a way of reuniting dogs with their owners if the information contained on the database is correct. There have been many heart-breaking cases of found pets being scanned for their microchips only to find that the contact details held by the database are out of date, preventing them from being reunited with their owners. Battersea says that 63% of stray dogs implanted with a chip have an inaccurate record.
There are currently 14 national microchip databases operating in the UK, which means there is no central record – something that the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has been campaigning to change. If your dog has a microchip and you are unsure which database they are registered with, visit check-a-chip.co.uk and enter their unique code to find out.
Ensure the database holds all your current contact details and remember to let the company know your new details if they change.
Collars and tags
The Control of Dogs Order 1992 states that a dog must wear a collar and tag when in public. This tag must have the owner’s name and address on it as well as their phone number. It is recommended that you don’t put your dog’s name on their ID tag as it can make it easier for thieves to lure them away if they can call them by name.
Despite the compulsory microchipping law coming into effect, dogs still need to wear a visible ID tag and collar in a public place. People are likely to assume that a dog without a collar and tag is a stray and may seize it. Owners should also ensure that they keep the information on the tag up to date.
If your dog has wandered off, the quickest way to finding your pet is if the finder can call you using the contact number on your pet’s tag. This also prevents the need for a lost dog to be taken to a vet or rescue centre to be scanned for their microchip before being able to track down an owner’s details.
With the advances in GPS technology, there are a few companies now selling collar-mounted tracking devices for dogs. The best ones are lightweight, waterproof and shock resistant and can update a dog’s location every few seconds to your mobile phone. Pet trackers can be expensive (around £40-£50 for the device) and usually require a monthly subscription to use.
The theft of a family pet has previously been viewed in law as theft of property, ignoring the impact it has had on owners who see their dogs as family members. In 2021 the Government Pet Theft Taskforce was launched and it was announced that a separate crime of pet abduction would become an offence in England. The aim of this is to reflect the emotional distress caused as well as to deter thieves and ensure that the punishment fits the crime with tougher sentencing.
There are lots of things you can do to help protect your pet from being stolen and it’s important that you are vigilant when out and about with your dog. Many thieves are opportunistic so don’t take any risks.
Dogs Trust has the following suggestions for things you can do to prevent dog theft:
· Ensure your house and property boundaries are securely fenced to keep your dog in and intruders out.
· Install a sensor light and fit sturdy locks to garden gates to prevent trespassers from gaining entry to your property. Furthermore, make sure you do not leave your dog unattended in your yard.
· Report any suspicious activity to the police and share information with your neighbours.
· Be careful what you post on social media. Are the photos of your dog visible to anyone and is there anything in the pictures that could identify where you live?
· Never leave your dog unattended in a public place, even if you only intend to pop into a shop for a few minutes. A minute is all a thief needs to unclip your pet and lead them away or lift them into a vehicle.
· If your dog is neutered, it's a good idea to indicate it on their ID tag or collar. This can help deter thieves who are looking to steal dogs for breeding purposes.
Out and about
While there is no law requiring dogs to be kept on a lead in public spaces, there are a series of orders that require an owner to ensure their dog is on a lead in certain places, for example, play areas, parks, beaches and when walking along a road.
Even if your dog has a reliable recall, you must be prepared to expect the unexpected. What would your off-lead dog do if a firework or loud bang suddenly went off close to them or they saw a cat or squirrel on the other side of the road? A frightened dog that bolts or a dog with a high prey drive that takes off after small furry creatures can quickly become lost and not find their way back to their owner.
Trained dogs are less likely to become lost. Work on your pet’s recall and ‘stay’ using positive reinforcement training methods so that you have greater control over them when you are out and about. If your dog is not very good at returning when you call, either keep them on a long training lead or exercise them in an enclosed area.
There are lots of ‘dog fields’ available for rent these days which you can hire for an hour to let your dog run and play off lead in a fully enclosed area with dog-proof fencing. For dogs that love to run free, this is a great way for ensuring they can’t disappear.
What to do if your dog goes missing?
Dogs Trust has the following advice for what dog owners should do if their pet goes missing.
1. Contact your local dog warden. They are employed by the council and are legally responsible for stray dogs.
If your dog has been found wandering it is likely they will have been picked up by the dog warden. It’s worth contacting the dog wardens in surrounding areas too in case your pet has strayed further afield. A council must hold a stray dog for seven days but after that time they are likely to be passed to a rehoming organisation or have them humanely put to sleep if an owner has not been found.
2. It’s possible that a found dog could be handed to a local rescue centre by a member of the public. Call your nearest animal shelters to see if they have had a dog of your pet’s description handed in.
3. It’s a good idea to contact the vet surgeries in your local area in case your dog has been handed in there or has been injured.
4. Contact your pet’s microchip database to tell them that your dog is missing so they can notify you if someone tries to change your dog’s details. It is also important that you let the database company know if your dog is found.
5. Register your dog on DogLost.co.uk. DogLost is the UK’s largest lost and found dog service and it’s free to use. The site lists details of lost and found dogs, can help you generate posters and uses its network of volunteers to spread the word about lost and stolen dogs.
6. Using a good recent photo of your dog that shows off any distinguishing marks, make posters to put up in your neighbourhood on noticeboards, shop windows and in community centres.
7. Social media is a great tool to track down missing pets so post on as many platforms as you can asking people to look out for your dog and to share their details. There are Facebook groups devoted to helping lost dogs be reunited with their owners, which are a good place to start.
8. Explore all the locations where you typically stroll alongside your canine companion. It could be that your dog has just decided to take themselves for a walk and could be sticking to familiar routes. If there are any building sites nearby, check your dog has not followed its nose and become stuck somewhere it shouldn’t have gone.
9. If you suspect that your dog has been stolen, telephone the police to get the disappearance reported as a crime. Make sure you get a crime reference number.
What to do if you find a dog
If you find a stray dog it is likely that there is a very worried owner somewhere who is desperate to be reunited with them. Here’s what you can do to help them get back home safely.
· If the dog is wearing a collar, check it for an ID tag if the dog is happy for you to get close to them. If you can see a contact number, get in touch with the owner straight away and arrange to meet in a public place to hand over the dog. If something doesn’t feel right about the reunion or you are not happy to do this yourself, contact the local dog warden who can take responsibility for returning the dog.
· If the dog doesn’t have a collar or you are unable to contact the owner, telephone the dog warden via your local council. The dog warden will be able to have the dog scanned for a microchip before trying to reunite them with their owner. Vets and rehoming organisations can’t take strays directly from members of the public, except in certain emergency situations.
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