Many of the risks cats and dogs face in Europe, in particular the illegal pet trade and the way stray animals are treated, are connected to poor identification and registration practices.
Mandatory identification and registration (I&R) are essential when it comes to:
Combating illegal or criminal activities
Managing stray cat and dog populations
Avoiding public health risks
Combating zoonotic disease outbreaks if they occur
In addition, while it is assumed that there are over 60 million dogs and 66 million cats in Europe, inconsistent I&R means those numbers may be no more than a poor approximation.
Rules for the non-commercial movement of pets were first introduced in 2013 and require certain conditions to be met, such as the animal being microchipped and having a passport to prove vaccinations. Since then, though, there has been a meteoric rise in the number of people who are using this non-commercial system for the purely commercial trade of pet animals, particularly puppies. Large-scale evasion of controls and document falsification were uncovered by many organisations, including our own members.
If identification and registration are not consistent and not enforced across the countries, animals become part of the international criminal enterprise of breeding, transport and sales. Without proper oversight, these animals are treated cruelly and are not protected against diseases that pose serious human health risks. Smuggling networks are part of violent criminal organisations that also destabilise communities across Europe.
Effective I&R with interconnected databases, combined with reaching out to European consumers who purchase or adopt these animals, is needed, while pet owners need to be educated about identification and registration to protect animals from abandonment and becoming strays. The systematic punishment of animals through culling campaigns that take place in some countries is unacceptable.
As highlighted in the Eurogroup for Animals recently published report Illegal Pet Trade: Game Over, based on the workshop of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, pets must be microchipped and registered in interconnected databases.
Microchipping alone can still lead to animals dropping off the radar and becoming victims to people and networks who do not properly care for them. Hence registration is the key, and should go hand-in-hand with identification.