Northern Ireland

Compulsory dog microchipping is UK first

dog
Image caption All dogs in Northern Ireland will have to be microchipped

Nicola Poole's job requires a thick skin, sharp eyes and quick feet.

She is a dog warden for Lisburn City Council - rounding up animals which are wandering around with no owner in sight.

On the Stewartstown Road on the outskirts of west Belfast, she finds a dog dodging traffic.

She pulls up, hops out and puts a lead on the dog. As she walks back to her van, she meets a dog walker who does not appreciate what she is doing.

"Take that lead off her," he tells Nicola.

Nicola stands her ground: "I can't give that dog back to you if you don't own her.

"She was on her own and nearly caused a road accident."

The man storms off with an expletive - and Nicola drives the dog to the pound.

She is used to hostility from members of the public - many of whom perhaps do not realise how big a task she has.

According to theDogs Trust, Northern Ireland has more stray dogs than any other UK region.

But the Northern Ireland Executive has introduced a new law that comes into force on Easter Monday which will make Nicola's job easier.

All dogs in Northern Ireland will have to be microchipped when their licence is renewed.

"I think it'll make a big difference to dog wardens," said Nicola.

"It's another method of trying to track dogs' owners and get them home. Dogs' collars and tags can be lost and can be removed. The microchip is permanent, so it can be pretty helpful."

Image caption Dog warden Nicola Poole says the new law should make her job easier

The microchipping procedure is very quick.

The chip - about a centimetre long - is placed on the end of an instrument which looks like a syringe.

It is then implanted into the loose skin between a dog's shoulders.

Many vets have agreed to carry out the procedure for free.

The Dogs Trust is also organising a "roadshow" which is travelling to different locations in Northern Ireland offering dog owners the chance to have chips implanted on their pets.

"We wanted it to be very easy for owners to get their dogs microchipped," said Ronnie Milsop, the Northern Ireland campaign director for the trust, which has been calling for compulsory microchipping.

None of the dogs at the trust's rehoming centre in Ballymena will be put down - but lots of other animals are not so fortunate.

Last year in Northern Ireland, 1,615 stray or abandoned dogs were destroyed.

That is about one in six of the dogs in pounds - a much higher proportion than the UK average.

The Executive hopes that making microchipping compulsory will reduce the number of strays on the streets and mean fewer healthy animals have to be put to sleep.

Northern Ireland is the first part of the UK to bring in a law like this.

The governments in Westminster and Cardiff are watching - they are considering doing the same.

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