March 9, 2010

British Plan Calls For Microchipping Of All Dogs

Britain is proposing a new plan to crackdown on dangerous dogs, which may include forcing dog owners to microchip their pets and to get insurance for them.

The proposal is being met with criticism from civil libertarians who feel that Britain's vast surveillance has already gone too far, and now it wants to keep tabs on some 8 million dogs. Many also feel insurance would be a burden to innocent pet owners -- while those who own violent dogs would simply ignore the law.

"This is yet more surveillance and continuous data-grabbing by government who want to have as much information on us as it can possibly have," said Dylan Sharpe, a campaigner with privacy rights group Big Brother Watch, to the Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday.

The proposal is aimed at taking on the growing problem of aggressive dogs being used to harass, attack, and in some cases, even kill. Many street thugs have turned to dangerous-looking canines to assault their victims, because tight laws on gun control. Even carrying a knife can get someone thrown in the slammer.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said complaints have soared tenfold when it came to dog fights. In 2009, London deputy called for action to be taken on what he calls "weapon dogs."

Hospital admissions and court cases have also soared due to dangerous dogs, according to the Conservative Party. Dog attacks are a growing concern. One such attack involoved four-year-old John-Paul Massey, who was mauled to death by a pit bull at his grandmother's house in northern England.

Its "no doubt that some people breed and keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others," said Home Office Secretary Alan Johnson. "It is this sort of behavior that we will not tolerate; it is this sort of behavior that we are determined to stop."

In TV appearances defending the proposals, Johnson said that microchips would help trace owners of dogs involved in attacks, while insurance would ensure that victims of attacks would be properly compensated for injuries. Microchips would cost between 15 and 50 dollars, but insurance costs would be much more.

Many pet insurers offer third-party liability insurance tied into larger plans which may cover vet fees and emergency care. One British insurer, Petplan, told AP insurance for a Labrador could go for around $34 per month or higher.

The proposal doesn't offer details on what penalties would be implied for those who did not comply with the law, but in south London, if housing tenants do not get their dogs chipped, they are found to be in violation of their rental agreement and could face eviction.

Animal welfare groups welcomed the government's proposals. The RSPCA has long supported microchipping -- seen as a means of reuniting lost pets with their owners.

Postal workers and telecom engineers also applauded the proposals. The Communication Workers Union said that many of its members "are regularly bitten by dogs that have been either left unattended or are simply not under control."

It remains unclear if Johnson's proposal will become law or not. It must undergo a consultation period, which last up to 12 weeks, and may not even reach Parliament before the general election, which must be called by June 3.

Other countries, including Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Portugal, have mandated microchipping laws in the past few years without any backlash from citizens or activists. In France, law requires some dogs be either chipped or tattooed. In parts of Germany and Switzerland, dog owners are required by law to get insurance on their dog, regardless of breed.