Welcome to the second in my series of interviews with inspirational dog health and welfare campaigners. As I said in my first one with Marc Abraham of PupAid, I have been fortunate to meet so many dedicated and tireless individuals on the campaign trail, so I am delighted that Debbie Matthews from VetsGetScanning gave some of her precious time to tell me about her incredible work. Debbie has turned a devastating experience, of dog theft into a high profile, constructive welfare crusade. Here she tells us all about it.
KI: Debbie what first prompted you to set up this campaign?
Debbie: In May 2006 my two Yorkshire Terriers, Widget and Gizmo were stolen. Back then there was no social media but I was lucky to find Doglost.co.uk on the web. They advised us to poster and get the word out locally as quickly as possible. Jayne Hayes, the founder, also told me that as the boys were neutered and 7 years old, they would probably be sold on quickly for quick cash. My response was ‘Great, they are both microchipped, so when they go to the vets with the new owner, they will be scanned and returned to me!’ Jayne then told me the devastating news that ‘Vets do not scan and check for microchips at registration’. ‘Why not, what’s the point in pet owners microchipping our pets?
As responsible pet owners we microchip our pets and assume the system is working to reunite pet and owner, sadly the system lacks common sense. It is unthinkable that your stolen or missing pet may go to a vets with another owner and not be scanned!
Ten years and 3 petitions later we are still campaigning, yes more vets do scan, yes the BVA has made Scanning Microchips at registration ‘Best Practice’ and the RCVS has created a flow chart BUT vets are still left to decide if their practices scan and check microchips at registration. Many have decided not to scan. Unless there is a directive from RCVS, with clear Standard Operation Procedures nothing will change.
KI: Once you thankfully, got Gizmo and Widget back, you could have just returned to a quiet life. What motivates you to continue to take this stand?
Debbie: When you go through the experience of dog theft it never leaves you. I was one of the lucky ones and got both dogs back within 11 days but you feel the pain for those left searching. Vets scanning all new pets is not a big ask and would make a huge difference to those left heartbroken and searching for years.
KI: How receptive has the veterinary profession been to your campaign?
Debbie: At the start I was laughed at. The most common comment back in 2006 was, ‘No one steals dogs’! I may be one of the first dog theft victims to be able to show a completed cycle as the dogs were stolen from my car, they were both sold on, one in a livestock market in Southall, the other in a park and I then got them back after two live appeals on GMTV, having been invited onto the program as my dad is Bruce Forsyth. They were sold on to dog lovers who would have gone to the vets. The main comment from vets is ‘They don’t have the time’, which is heartbreaking to hear!
KI: Are there still changes you would like the veterinary profession to make? If so, what?
Debbie: Obviously we want scanning and checking microchips to be compulsory. It’s no good scanning and adding the chip number to files. The number needs to be cross checked.
A number of microchipped dogs are unregistered because of the puppies imported from overseas, they must be microchipped to enter the UK but are not registered on a U.K. Database. Vets are in a prime position to give owners advice on updating microchip data information.
KI: In the 10 years you have been fighting for this, what would you say have been the key lessons you have learned?
Debbie: Keep focused! Over the 10 years, as more dogs are stolen or kept by finders the more pet owners find out the truth about the present microchip system the better. The hardest thing is getting pet owners to understand that microchips do not reunite pet and owner the way they have been led to believe. We are up against huge respected pillars of society who tell us ‘microchips reunites pets’.
KI: Looking ahead to the next five or so years, what is your biggest wish for the welfare of dogs?
Debbie: More action and less talk! So many meetings but nothing gets done.
KI: How can people support your work and get involved?
Debbie: We are very excited to announce:-
‘Dog theft awareness day’, which is being hosted by Dartford MP Gareth Johnson, will bring Dog Theft to the forefront of MPs nationwide. Mr Johnson, who has already raised the issue in Parliament, is keen to support the work of the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance’s (SAMPA) to encourage tougher sentences for those involved in the crime. MPs will be invited to drop in on the day to hear presentations from those involved in the campaign and police officers leading the offensive against the surging crime.
Dog owners are being asked to contact their MP and urge them to attend the day which is on Tuesday March 14. Anyone who has been a victim is asked to send a photograph of their dog to their MP asking them to add it to a map of stolen dogs across the country. There is a template for you to use to contact your MP about this important issue: see here
SAMPA comprises DogLost – the country’s largest reunification Organisation, Pet Theft Awareness, the Dog Union, and Vets Get Scanning. Follow them on twitter
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