Here’s why micro-chipping your cat does not always get them back when found

Micro-chipping your cat is considered to be the default situation in developed countries in 2023. It’s a necessity. It’ll become a legal obligation in the UK. That’s all well and good. But micro-chipping doesn’t always end with the happy reunion of lost cat and owner even when the cat has been found. Fred’s story illustrates the point.

The story of Fred

Reported in the Dail Mail 17 May, 2023. Ms Beryl Edwards, 76, a pensioner, adopted Fred and his brother Gino from a shelter in 2021. One day Fred simply disappeared. He must have been an indoor/outdoor cat. He was micro-chipped. He was found by somebody – we don’t have their name because of data protection rules – who kept him for a while and even took him to the vet on more than one occasion without asking the vet to scan for a microchip.

Fred and Gino
Fred and Gino. Picture by Beryl Edwards, the true owner.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Then after they had formed a relationship with Fred, they did have him scanned for a microchip and discovered that Ms Edwards was his owner. They contacted the microchip company to ask them to contact Ms Edwards for a transfer of ownership. They wanted to regularise their ownership of Fred. They had claimed him. They had possessed him but they didn’t legally own him and they wanted that weakness dealt with.

The microchip company then contacted Ms Edwards and told them that the people had found Fred wanted to own him legally. Ms Edwards refused. She wanted him back.

The microchip company could not tell Ms Edwards who had found her cat. The data protection rules in the UK forbid it. But they did pass on Ms Edwards’ contact details to Fred’s finders. However, the ‘finders’ did not contact Ms Edwards.

Ms Edwards got the police involved. The microchip company disclosed the contact details of both parties to the police. They could therefore talk to both parties allowing negotiations to take place. It appears that they told the anonymous people who found Fred that they might be committing the crime of theft. I would agree that it was a theft. Although this is one of those gray areas but legally, yes, that was theft.

Under pressure from the police the people who found Fred agreed to give him up and allow Ms Edwards to re-take possession of him. So, the story ends well but ONLY because the people who found Fred agreed to give him up.

If they had kept quiet and not wanted to legally own Fred, they would still have him in their possession right now and Ms Edwards would have known nothing about it. Fred would simply be another lost cat never to return.

Data protection rules undermine microchipping as a reunification tool

The weakness in the micro-chipping process in this instance is that data protection laws do not allow the true owner of the cat to contact the “new owner”. And therefore, there might never be a return of a lost cat.

Goodwill of finder is required for microchipping to work

The return of the micro-chipped and lost cat depends upon the goodwill of all the people involved and particularly the finder of the cat. And in this instance the police were very helpful. I’ve read stories where they were less than helpful.

Police don’t like these situations

Sometimes the police wash their hands of these sorts of problems by claiming that they are civil and not criminal matters. This police force, Mercia, decided that it might be theft but I’m sure that they didn’t want anything to do with it. They just used that possibility as leverage against the “new owners” to force them to give him up. That won’t happen normally. Ms Edwards was very lucky that the police helped her. Perhaps it was because she is a female pensioner.

‘Finders is keepers’ is the saying for lost cats

I am pretty sure that in around 90% of the cases of wandering lost cats being found and kept by the finder that the cat is not reunited with the true owner if they want to keep the cat. Not many people want to bother to become the new legal owner. They just take possession of the lost cat and do no more. Why should they do more?

Ownership of pets

In the case of lost cats ‘finders is keepers’ as they say. Taking possession is as good as taking ownership. Some people say that you can’t truly legally own a cat because they are sentient beings and they can wander wherever they want to want to if allowed outside. They decide who they should be “owned” by. This undermines the concept of theft.

Legally pets are ‘chattels’

However, the last point to make is this: legally cats are possessions like fridges and a pair of shoes. Under the law domestic cats are not sentient beings which is a very outdated concept. There are lots of calls to upgrade the law to allow pets to be considered sentient beings and not “chattels”.

Compensation

This leads me to the last point which is about compensation for negligent harm committed to a domestic cat by, for example, a veterinarian. When that happens, the owner can barely get any genuine compensation because under the law a domestic cat is worth about £40 in the UK and an equivalent sum in other countries. I think there should be an obligation under the law to pay £10,000 worth of compensation. What I mean is that there should be a fixed sum payable to compensate for the emotional distress suffered by the owners and indeed by the cat when injured by a medical professional or any other person.

A recent case in America highlights this problem but the owner is suing for $3 million! She won’t get it. Read about this by clicking on this link.

A way to reunite lost cat with owner when you know neither

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