Ever since the mandatory dog licence was abolished by the Thatcher administration in 1987, on the grounds that it was expensive to run and widely flouted, successive governments have struggled to find new ways to control both the animals and their owners. In 1991, after a spate of serious attacks, the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced to outlaw certain breeds, only to become a byword for knee-jerk legislation. There is no sign that matters have improved in the intervening 21 years. Aggressive dogs, often accompanied by aggressive men, still plague our inner cities, posing a threat to people and other animals. The Coalition is now to make another attempt to confront the problem of stray, ill-treated or violent dogs. Among its proposals is the compulsory micro-chipping of all newborn puppies. This is likely to cost owners up to £40, which, even allowing for inflation, compares unfavourably with the 37.5p (pre-decimal 7s 6d) fee for the old licence.
While animal welfare groups, vets and the police support the policy (in fact, most would like all dogs, not just puppies, chipped) it is hard to see how it is going to make much difference. Once again, responsible owners and breeders are being penalised for the bad behaviour of a minority of bad owners. The former will obey the law and, indeed, many already fit their pets with microchips. Yet the very people who cause the problems are likely simply to ignore it. And if they do, what happens? The Government's consultation paper accepts that "enforcement may well be largely passive". While the new microchipping regime may help reunite owners with strays, it is not clear how it will inconvenience those who are determined to flout the law. Perhaps prosecuting them for possessing a dangerous weapon is a better way forward.