Thursday, March 30, 2006

Garth George: Forced to take the dog out for an exercise in futility

It's only in the past year or so that I've had much to do with dogs. But all my life there's been a cat round the house and there still is.

I like cats. I like their independence and the way they look after themselves, their indifference to attention or affection, the way they mark out their territory and defend it, their obsession with their own comfort and the fact that as long as someone feeds them regularly - and it doesn't matter who - they seem perfectly happy.

I had a bit to do with dogs as a child and young man because my parents had a lot of farming friends and they always had dogs about the place.

Later, as a young journalist on the farm beat, I attended a lot of A&P shows and dog trials. If there is any animal more intelligent than a Southland sheepdog, I've yet to encounter it.

But these were not dogs you walked up to and patted on the head (which you should never do) or scratched behind the ear. It wasn't so much that they were unfriendly but that they were invariably one-man dogs and anyone else who spoke to them was ignored.

In any case, for years I avoided getting a dog as a pet.

Housedogs are different. They require a personal commitment which goes beyond just the physical - an emotional response that I wasn't sure I was prepared to give.

And they have to be exercised and played with and bathed and brushed and generally made a fuss of.

But the time came when I ran out of excuses and, after much searching of the internet and discussions with breeders, a tiny red and white cavalier King Charles spaniel became part of our household.

And the fun began.

I won't bore you with the details of his upbringing. Suffice it to say that he is now almost fully grown and it is difficult to imagine our house without his cheerful and active presence.

And that, I think, applies also to the cat - our lovely 7-year-old chocolate and cream Birman. Mind you, it took a while for the energetic canine interloper to be accepted, and many a whack upside the ear had to be administered by the cat before the newcomer found his proper place.

But these days they live together companionably, from time to time chasing each other all round the house and playing hide and seek, the rest of the time peacefully going about their mysterious feline and canine occasions.

Now, as a dog-owner, I am entitled to have an opinion on the question of microchipping all dogs and, indeed, I have such an opinion. It is, in a few words, that this is probably the stupidest idea this Government has come up with so far.

It is stupid because the entire exercise, which will have to be carried out at significant expense to city dog-owners and huge expense to farmers, will achieve absolutely nothing.

If anyone thinks it will make the slightest difference to the number of dog attacks or to the number of dogs running loose, then they have holes in their heads.

It is an exercise in futility and it staggers me that those who came up with the idea, and those who have bought into it, could ever let it get as far as it has.

The best and most concise explanation of the worthlessness of this exercise is to be found on the website of Federated Farmers, which makes these unarguable points: (1) To read a microchip, dogs have to be either caught or destroyed because the range of scanners is less than 5cm. It is likely that a microchip will not be of any use in catching dangerous dogs. The majority of dangerous dogs are not registered, and are even less likely to be microchipped. The notion of someone reading a microchip during an attack ... is preposterous.

(2) Microchips do not stop dog attacks. A dog with a microchip is no more or less likely to bite than a dog without a microchip. Rather than aid identification of dogs that attack, the added cost of microchipping will further discourage people from registering their dogs, thereby increasing non-compliance. Already, the number of dog-owners who do not register their dogs is nearly one out of two.

(3) The microchipping legislation has been created in response to dog attacks. However, in most dog attack cases, identifying the owner is not an issue, meaning that microchipping will neither prevent dog attacks nor improve the accountability of dog-owners when dog attacks occur. Therefore, this legislation is costly and pointless.

(4) The only beneficiaries of this senseless legislation are veterinarians, who stand to gain directly from dog-owners in yet another raft of unnecessary compliance costs.

So I am left with the inescapable conclusion that this is just another example of a Government - as governments so often do - giving the appearance of doing something about a perceived problem while doing nothing at all - and at someone else's expense.

Either that or this Administration has run out of ideas on how more rigidly to control the populace and in desperation has turned to trying to control dogs.

What next? Microchipping all men because some of us rape, kill or assault women and children? Watch this space.

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