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Finding Fern: should microchip scanning be compulsory?
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This month, Jodie Ferrier describes the six-year hunt for her lost dog, Fern

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Our dog, Fern, was 13 months old when she vanished from our home – a farm in Surrey. A 2272-day ordeal then followed – searching, postering, speaking to the police and starting an online campaign to find her.

I have checked what seems like hundreds of pictures of black spaniels over the years, and I have had countless phone conversations with vet practices, rescue centres and wardens with strays in their care who even remotely match Fern’s description. The disappointment each time, when I realised it wasn’t her, was crushing.

For six years I kept the online campaign running, with 16,000 followers – dubbed ‘Fern’s Army’ – marching alongside me and looking for my girl. These individuals and the fact that she had been microchipped were my two tiny rays of hope in an otherwise bleak and desperate time.

Since her theft, I had moved county and had numerous phone number changes. I religiously updated the details on her microchip, and I contacted Petlog a few times a year just to make sure everything was still up-to-date and working well. The company had also placed a ‘stolen’ marker on her chip for me. All I needed was for her to be scanned. The likelihood of this seemed remote though, as my fears had grown about her possible whereabouts – an unspayed young bitch was the perfect target for unscrupulous breeders.

On 3 July 2019, at 16:32, my phone rang. It was a veterinary nurse from a practice in Reading, making a seemingly routine call to the owner of a stray dog. Fern had been picked up by a client of theirs who had spotted her running up the road in Bracknell. As the nurse spoke, I could barely hear the words through the sound of my own heart thumping. I felt dizzy with relief and shock.

The rest, as they say, is history. But, as I glimpse the scar on Fern’s tummy following her recent spay surgery, I see that it runs a physical line between well-used teats. Enlarged and ragged, they indicate that my fears regarding her whereabouts were well-founded. Used as a money-making commodity, she had been dumped when she was no longer useful.

The system worked for me in this case, but it is badly failing others

I am extremely lucky that I got my ‘happily ever after’. The system worked for me in this case, but it is badly failing others. Strays are routinely scanned, as it’s the easiest way to locate owners and get the dogs on their way. But what about dogs newly registered with a practice or those seen on emergency call outs?

Do you want to get involved?

If you know a client who might be interested in writing for us, please contact us at vet.clientview{at}bmj.com. Any contributions will be assessed by the column’s veterinary coordinator, Zoe Belshaw.

The government heralds their new legislation making it law to microchip dogs as a success, but they failed to make the scanning of chips compulsory. I have moved vet practice three times in the past six years, and none of my dogs has ever been scanned or had their details checked when I first registered them or presented them at the surgery.

#FernsLaw is a petition to fix the current flaws in the system and to make scanning compulsory so that everyone is obliged to comply. It is my opinion that stolen and missing dogs are being presented to practices around the country, perhaps by those who have bought the dog in good faith or perhaps by thieves who know it’s unlikely they will be questioned. We are missing valuable opportunities for dogs to be reunified with families who are desperate to see them again.

The system works if we use it properly, but it needs to be enforced by law so that more lost dogs can be reunited with their families.

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