By Evie Andreou
WHILE WELCOMING Cabinet’s decision last month to amend the dog ownership law so that local authorities can impose fines on dog owners that do not register and micro-chip their pets, officials are concerned they may be hard to implement.
At present, local authorities can warn owners to register their dogs but cannot fine them for not doing so. They do have the right to fine dog owners for not clearing up their dogs’ mess or for allowing them to bark incessantly, but often find these fines hard to impose and collect.
Yet changes to the dog-registering system are long overdue. Some municipalities estimate there may be as many as four times as many dogs in their district as the number registered in their databases, and are struggling to find ways to get more people to register their dogs.
They even admit spying on people’s yards and apartment buildings to try and track down dogs not registered with the authorities.
A source at the Nicosia municipality said they have 1,600 registered dogs and that ever since the economic crisis has struck, there has been a significant increase of stray dogs.
“But there has also being an increase in dog registrations by 10 to 20 per cent each year, mainly due to our efforts to locate unregistered dogs,” the source said.
“It is not an easy task since there are many apartment buildings in Nicosia and you can’t know for sure the number of dogs in them. It is easier with houses with yards, as you can see the dog” the source said.
The head of the Limassol municipality’s health services, Demetris Theotis, said that in 2013 2,409 dogs were registered, but guessed there was at least the same number unregistered. He said the municipality had even hired a private individual to visit apartment buildings and register how many dogs there are.
Petros Petrou, chief health officer at Paphos municipality said that they had 1,650 registered dogs but this was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the actual number of dogs in the district.
“There is four times that number unregistered,” Petrou said.
Altogether, there are 24,223 dogs registered at the state vet services department which has a database that all municipalities, including vets that wish to, can access and update the data of dogs and their owners.
The standard procedure is that a dog is taken to the vet to microchip, and then the vet either registers the dog’s microchip number and owner details in the database of the vet services, or gives the owner the microchip’s info and they have to go to the vet services and have the data registered into the central database.
After the microchip is installed and data registered, the owner is given a confirmation from the vet or the vet services to take to the local authorities to issue the dog’s licence, which costs around €20.50 per year.
But there are problems with the system according to Mary Anastasi, chairperson of the non-governmental-organisation, Voice for Animals
She said that many people install microchips in their dogs but they do not register them on the vet service’s database, either because they think that their dogs are automatically registered once their dog has been chipped or because they don’t want to pay the annual fee at the local authorities.
“You can put ten microchips on your dog, but if its data are not registered at the vet services, no one knows about it,” she said and stressed the importance of the chip.
With people struggling financially, animal welfare groups have suggested that vets should keep microchip fees low.
Anastasi also said that people in vulnerable groups, such as pensioners, the unemployed or those on low incomes should be exempt from the annual licence fee, just as they are in other countries.
So how confident are the municipalities that the amendment, due before the House soon, will allow them to do their job and ensure widespread registration of dogs?
Theotis said that the law amendment will be a huge help as it will be easier to enforce the law, a view shared by Nicosia municipality.
But Petrou of Paphos municipality is more sceptical, saying that negligent dog owners might give their real names when officials attempt to fine them. He said such tactics have been used when it comes to trying to impose fines on owners who let their dogs foul the streets.
“But it is not easy to give out fines. One time we were given false name and contact details and another time we were verbally attacked by one dog owner who refused to give us his personal details,” he said.
Anastasi is positive the law will help, however, if it is actually applied by the local authorities.
“The goal is not to impose fines, but we hope that it will teach people to take care of their dogs and especially to put a microchip on them,” she said.