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Last minute changes to the recently passed dog microchipping legislation have created a costly administrative headache for the Ashburton District Council and other local authorities throughout the country.

The amendment to Part 1 of the Local Government Law Reform Bill, which has had the effect of exempting working farm dogs, has also created the need to identify dogs that are exempt.

The amendment exempts dogs that are kept solely or principally for the purposes of herding or driving stock, stock being defined as certain animals such as sheep, cattle, pigs and horses that are not in a wild state and other animals such as deer and goats that are kept in a fenced enclosure for domestic or farming purposes.

The amendment also requires owners of exempt dogs to identify them with special collar, label or disc. District councils are required to keep a supply of numbered labels or discs and collars identifying exempt dogs.

Ashburton District Council environmental services manager John McKenzie said the fact the amendment had come at the 11th hour had involved councils in some unnecessary expense.

As an example the Department of Internal Affairs had produced enough brochures for every council in the country saying that all dogs had to be on the national database. Those brochures were now redundant, their cost being met partly by councils and partly by the taxpayer under the 50/50 share arrangement of the $1 million cost of establishing the database.

Ashburton had not distributed the leaflet, but some councils that were further ahead had done so. Some had also modified their  dog registration forms, again something Ashburton had not done.

However, about five weeks of staff time had been put in by the council’s IT department, making sure the council’s dog database was compatible with the government’s national one. It was an example of the wastage that had been caused, he said.

All dogs aged over three month registered after July 1 had to have a microchip within two months unless they qualified for the working dog exemption, Mr McKenzie said. The time left the council with little more than a week to purchase the identification tags or discs for exempt dogs.

The Ashburton District Council had experienced a rush of dog registrations in the last two weeks of June, he said, as more than 200 people registered puppies that normally would not have to be registered until after July 1. There were also a number of older dogs registered for the first time, one four years old.

The short time to deal with the provisions of the exemption was just one of the implications that were starting to become apparent and which the council was starting to work through, he said. The department was leaving it to individual councils to sort out their own microchipping and registration procedures. People would be asked to sign their registration form as in the past but may also be asked to sign other statements especially if they were applying for exemption..

There were likely to be problems with exemption tags, with little incentive for farmers to put them on the dog. It was currently not unusual to find wandering farm dogs with no registration tag. With the use of dog motels collars were not used as much as in the past, and with tags being of little immediate use they were often not put on immediately. Farm dogs were also generally under good control and were unlikely to wander, meaning there was no urgency to put a tag on them.

The amendment had severely watered down the concept of a national dog database, Mr McKenzie said. However, microchips would not stop a single dog attack.

Problem dogs are owned by problem owners and it is not uncommon for them not to be registered, he said.

There were also lots of aggressive breed dogs that were owned by good owners that never caused problems and never came to the council’s attention.

If a fraction of the money spent on microchips had been spent on education it would have reduced the number of incidents, he said.

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