1. On 27 December 2013, the Scottish Government published the consultation document: 'Promoting responsible dog ownership in Scotland: microchipping and other measures'. The consultation ran for 12 weeks and closed on 31 March 2014.
2. The consultation sought views about whether compulsory microchipping would improve dog welfare and responsible ownership, what its financial impact might be, and how it could be effectively enforced. Initial views were also sought on other possible measures such as dog licensing and muzzling although the consultation questionnaire concentrated to a large degree on issues relating to microchipping, with 20 of the 23 substantive questions covering this topic.
3. There were 2,378 responses to the consultation. These comprised 112 group / organisational responses and 1,530 individual responses. In addition, Scotland for Animals organised a campaign in response to the consultation, and 736 individuals submitted a single campaign response and no additional comments. Respondents to the questionnaire largely identified themselves as responsible dog owners, and many emphasised that they already microchipped their dogs.
Views on compulsory microchipping
4. A large majority (83%) of non-campaign respondents said they were in favour of compulsory microchipping. In general, respondents said that microchipping was something that most responsible dog owners already did (on a voluntary basis). However, a substantial minority of those who favoured the introduction of compulsory microchipping also expressed significant reservations or conditions. Furthermore, campaign respondents favoured the introduction of compulsory microchipping only if it was introduced in conjunction with mandatory licensing. Thus, support for compulsory microchipping was not as unambiguous as it might at first sight appear.
5. Respondents generally believed that the main benefits of compulsory microchipping were that it would lead to increased accountability for dog owners, and that it would improve the traceability and return of lost or stray dogs. In addition, compulsory microchipping was seen to be a first step in making dog owners more responsible. It was also thought that microchipping would lead to small benefits in relation to increasing the amount of contact with professionals and thereby improving animal welfare, and helping to deter dog theft in certain situations. However, the delivery of these small improvements was contingent on a number of other changes being delivered in tandem. Respondents were sceptical about the likelihood of these other changes being effectively implemented.
6. Overall, respondents identified two main barriers to the successful introduction of compulsory microchipping. First, there was a strongly held view that irresponsible dog owners would not comply with a requirement to microchip. Second, and related to this, substantial resources would need to be committed to enforcement. Given the lack of enforcement in relation to current relevant legislation, there was a high degree of scepticism about whether this would be achieved. In addition, serious penalties would have to be imposed; all details on the microchip would have to be kept up-to-date; scanners would have to be improved and made widely available; and microchip companies would have to be properly regulated. Again, there was scepticism about whether this suite of changes would be delivered.
7. It was not thought that compulsory microchipping would help to tackle puppy farming, prevent the abuse or mistreatment of dogs, or prevent dog attacks. It was thought that it would also place an unfair financial burden on rescue / rehoming charities as well as on dog owners with low incomes.
8. Therefore, the findings of this consultation indicate that although there was support in principle for compulsory microchipping in Scotland, this support came with caveats.
Views on licensing
9. Respondents' views on licensing were not clear. This is partly because a tick-box (yes / no) was not offered to respondents in the consultation questionnaire. Moreover, in their comments, respondents did not generally address the question that was asked about licensing - namely: "Do you think a system of dog licensing could help encourage responsible dog ownership and help make our communities safer from dangerous and out of control dogs?" Instead, respondents largely gave their views about whether they supported the (re-)introduction of a licensing scheme in Scotland.
10. In addition, the response rate for the licensing question was lower than the response rate for other questions in the consultation. This is likely to have been the result of the question on licensing having been omitted from the original consultation questionnaire. It was, however, subsequently added to the on-line questionnaire and all respondents who had replied to the initial questionnaire were contacted and invited to submit comments on the new question. However, only a small number did so.
11. Notwithstanding these issues, around one-third of non-campaign respondents (32%) said that they were in favour of licensing and nearly half (46%) said they were not. The remaining respondents (22%) expressed unclear views. The 736 campaign respondents expressed clear support for licensing. If these 736 responses are added to the number of non-campaign respondents in favour of licensing, the overall support for licensing increases to about two-thirds of all respondents (66%).
12. The main reason given by those who supported licensing was that it would encourage responsible dog ownership. However, this would be contingent upon the enforcement of the scheme being properly resourced.
13. Those who did not support licensing believed that only responsible dog owners would obtain a licence; that licensing was a "tax on dog ownership"; that the previous licensing system had been discontinued because it "did not work"; that enforcement would be expensive; and that licensing would be an unnecessary duplication if compulsory microchipping was introduced.
Views on compulsory muzzling
14. The views on compulsory muzzling were very clear: it was almost universally rejected by respondents to the consultation with 97% of all respondents expressing strong disagreement with this proposal.
15. Respondents' reasons for objecting to compulsory muzzling were that it would make little difference to the problem of dog attacks (most of which occur on private property in the dog's own home); it would compromise the dog's welfare; it is unnecessary since the vast majority of dogs are not dangerous; it would be impractical to muzzle certain types of dogs (including dogs with shorter snouts and working dogs that require to use their mouths for retrieving or assisting their owners); it would reinforce the misconception that some people have that all dogs are dangerous; and it would give the owners of dangerous dogs a "false sense of security".
Views about other measures that would help to promote responsible dog ownership
16. Respondents who expressed support for compulsory microchipping or licensing often made the point that neither of these measures alone (or in combination) would result in more responsible dog ownership. Instead, both microchipping and licensing should be part of an integrated set of measures that should include, among other things: (i) training and education of dog owners, children and the general public; (ii) better enforcement of current legislation; (iii) better regulation of dog breeding; (iv) a requirement for all dogs to be on a lead in public places and provision of designated dog exercise areas; (v) regulation of commercial dog walking businesses; (vi) banning certain individuals from owning dogs; (vii) ensuring that rehoming centres took more care in matching up rescued dogs with new owners; and (viii) compulsory third-party insurance. Respondents also thought that any plans to introduce new legislative measures should be preceded by a thorough review of the use and effectiveness of existing legislation.
17. In discussing their views about the consultation process itself, many respondents commented on the (perceived lack of) balance in the consultation, with the majority of questions focusing on microchipping, and on the omission of other measures which were thought to have a greater potential to improve the current situation in relation to responsible dog ownership.
18. Education was considered to be one such measure. The focus on education (and training) was a theme that arose repeatedly in respondents' comments. Although there was no specific question included in the consultation about education (and training), respondents nevertheless spontaneously raised this topic in relation to every substantive question. Indeed, almost two-thirds of all organisational respondents, and over half of all individual respondents raised these issues in their responses at some point. There was a view that many of the perceived problems with dogs are the result of "the ignorance of the owners" - not only about what the law requires of them, but also about how to train their dog. Education (rather than microchipping, licensing or muzzling) was therefore seen to be the key to responsible dog ownership.
Email: Liz Hawkins