Pets Reported as Missing or Stolen
One of the most difficult issues faced by vets (and other implanters) is what to do when presented with an animal that is already reported as missing or stolen by someone else. We are often asked what steps should be taken and what legal obligations exist. In consultation with the New Zealand Veterinary Association, the NZCAR makes the following recommendations:
MICROCHIPPED ANIMALS REPORTED AS MISSING OR STOLEN
- The NZCAR recommends that every animal that is new to a clinic is scanned and the details checked against the NZCAR. This will highlight if the animal has been reported missing or stolen, or it will also allow an owner to be advised if their contact details are not up to date. Unless flagged as stolen or the NZCAR record is marked as “NZCAR staff only to act”, then in the first instance it should be assumed there may be an error rather than a criminal act.
- IF A MISSING/STOLEN PET IS SCANNED
When a pet is scanned that has been reported missing or stolen, the first step is to ensure that the person presenting the animal is made aware that an inconsistency in the record exists. The NZCAR team can assist to resolve any inconsistencies.
- NO DATA STORED on the NZCAR should be given to the person presenting the animal.
- Equally it cannot be presumed the person presenting the animal is the guilty party even if a pet has been stolen. In cases the NZCAR has dealt with the identity of an animal is often discovered when the “new owner” has bought or acquired the animal from another source and wants an initial health check done. We have found that in a majority of these cases the animal has been purchased online through the likes of Facebook or Trademe.
- At this point the person presenting the animal can agree to let the clinic hold the animal while ownership is resolved. If they do not agree, the NZCAR recommends that the veterinarian report the matter to the police. We would also recommend advising the local Council, if the pet is a dog. We would also recommend capturing details such as the name used on the form, or vehicle registration plates, as they should be kept for passing onto the police.
- In many cases it can be tempting to ignore any disputed details to reduce workload. We strongly recommend that any veterinarian reports a disputed ownership case to the NZCAR so we can advise the person on the database their animal has been sighted. Sadly, we have had cases of where veterinarians simply alter the NZCAR to the new owner because they knew them. We have also had a case where Scanner Angel identified a pet had been at a clinic only for the clinic to deny they knew the name of the “regular client” who had found and adopted a missing cat and also that they had lost all the clients historical paperwork so there were no records on file either. Possibly worse still, we have had a clinic who held a missing animal and then simply released it back where it was found in the hope it would make its own way home.
- Regardless of whether the person presenting the animal has surrendered it or not, we strongly recommend the NZCAR be notified. This can be done by updating the record, but is best done by calling our 0800 LOSTPET (567873) number as soon as possible after the event. Steps the NZCAR can take include:
- Freezing the NZCAR record so that no further action can be taken by any external party. In cases of disputed ownership between ex-partners we can also clear the record so that NZCAR becomes the contact while the matter is resolved.
- Contacting the owner on the NZCAR to advise their animal has been sighted. It is the owner who must decide next steps. This can include both notifying the police and/or commencing civil proceedings. It may also be that the owner decides to take no further action and that they are happy for the animal to remain with the person presenting the animal. Whatever the action decided, it is for the owner to decide.
- NZCAR staff can act on behalf of the veterinary clinic to make any calls necessary. Neither the NZCAR nor veterinarians have any authority in this matter; however in some cases a mediated solution can be quickly reached. We are happy to assess any situation and assume this role if an outcome looks possible. If not then we can advise both parties to seek legal advice. With respect to the NZCAR, veterinarians are effectively acting as agents of the NZCAR are as such are not expected to act as our police force, nor are they expected to mediate between parties, and most importantly they are not expected to put themselves in a position of risk in any conflict between disputed owners.
- If no ownership can be established and the parties refuse to take any formal legal process the NZCAR can delete any record and block the chip number from being registered again in the future. This is a drastic action but is covered in our terms and conditions. We have used this only 2 or 3 times out of the over 675,000 registrations we have received. In each case people have tried to represent the NZCAR as being on their side by the information we hold. We are a microchip database and we store the last information we were properly provided with.
Core NZCAR Rules
- THE NZCAR CANNOT BE MODIFIED WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE PERSON LISTED. The only exceptions to this rule are when we are directed by the courts to make a change or where the animal has been legally rehomed by a Council or the SPCA. In both cases this should be verified by sighting the paperwork, or in the latter case verifying with the Council or SPCA directly if there are still concerns. If we are unable to contact the owner on our system by telephone, email or written letter (we have a process for this that must be followed) then the NZCAC set a policy that the best welfare of the animal is paramount and we can change the record to the person who is now giving the animal the necessary guardianship and care.
- THE NZCAR DATA IS CONFIDENTIAL AND CANNOT BE SHARED WITH THIRD PARTIES Information on previous owners and any contact details are not to be shared with any person involved in an ownership dispute without the permission of the person involved. The only exception to this rule is where information is requested by the police or the courts.
- THE PURPOSE OF THE NZCAR IS TO GET LOST PETS HOME. The contact details we keep are for the person responsible for the chipped animal. We use veterinary clinics, spca, councils, rescues, pet shops, shelters, roading contractors and many other approved agents to assist with our primary job of getting lost pet’s home. The NZCAR has no legal authority to take any action when a pet’s ownership is under dispute. All disputes over ownership are a matter for the courts and any party should be advised to seek legal advice. In many cases we recommend CLAW, as it offers free legal advice for those who cannot afford it.