Gizmo’s Legacy petition debated in Parliament

Date published: 24 June 2019

A petition calling for local authorities to check all cats killed or injured on the roads for a microchip was debated in Parliament on Monday (17 June).

Martyn Day MP, a member of the Petitions Committee, opened the Gizmo’s Legacy debate, saying: “Pet owners suffer terribly when their cat or dog goes missing. Everyone knows someone whose cat or dog has disappeared and the frantic searching that this creates.

“Pet owners never give up searching where there is any hope, and sadly they often waste their time and their money chasing a lost cause because a council has no clear policy. Some councils are better than others in this area, but there is no consistency.

“This debate is about how a few simple procedures followed by council staff can halt years of searching and heartache where pet owners are living in hope for a miracle that will never happen. It is often the not knowing that hurts the most for these owners.”

Gizmo’s Legacy was started after the eponymous cat was hit by a car and euthanised, despite being microchipped. As a result, she was not reunited with her distraught owner, Heléna Abrahams, of Bury, who has called for the UK government to change the law.

Now, following Heléna’s petition, which garnered over 107,000 signatures from across the UK, Gizmo’s Legacy was debated in Parliament on 17 June, securing a second reading and a meeting with the Minister of Defra.

Heléna said: “We have got to a second reading, which is brilliant, and also a meeting with the minister of Defra David Rutley MP. What a great day for Gizmo’s Legacy. Thank you also to James Frith, my amazing MP and our head speaker, Martyn Day.”

The petition gathered the most support of anywhere in the country in Heywood and Middleton (634 signatures), and Rochdale (607 signatures).

Speaking during the debate, Liz McInnes, MP for Heywood and Middleton, said: “Of anywhere in the country, the petition gathered most support from my constituency. Heywood and Middleton topped the table with 634 signatures, so I feel duty bound to speak on behalf of those constituents who cared enough to sign it. The sad story of Gizmo also happened in my neighbouring constituency of Bury North.

“I fully support the aim of the petition, which hon. Members have described as a tweak in the law — that is all. Simply, the petition’s aim is that deceased or injured cats be required by law to be scanned in the same way that dogs are, and that efforts be made to track down their owners.

“Despite cats being popular pets, the law does not require motorists to report running a cat over, nor is it compulsory for cats to be microchipped, although many owners do that voluntarily.

“According to Cats Protection, 68% of domestic cats are microchipped. Those cat owners have done that for a reason: their hope is that, if their cat goes missing, somebody will scan the chip and the cat will be returned to them.

“The government’s guidelines state that there is no requirement to report a collision involving an animal smaller than a dog, although I wonder what size of dog the government are referring to. That guideline seems deliberately vague. The point is that the law could easily be extended to include cats.

“I am pleased to say that my local authority already has a policy to check deceased cats for microchips, and it makes every effort to identify pet owners. If the cat has a chip, a member of the environmental management team will contact the owner to break the sad news and arrange for the pet to be either collected or incinerated by the council - whatever the owner decides to do. If the pet does not have a chip, it is stored for up to four weeks in case it fits a description from concerned owners. Unclaimed pets are incinerated after four weeks.

“My local authority’s response seems sensible and humane, and all councils should adopt it. 

“There are many good reasons to bring about this change in the law, and not one reason why we should not. It is clear that it has cross-party support, so let’s just do it.”

Heléna’s MP, James Frith of Bury North, said: “We are asking for standard and consistent practice across the country that is supported by law - a government looking for a legacy could implement that now - to ensure that a cat that has been involved in a traffic accident or killed in some other way is returned to his or her mum or dad through scanning. It is a simple process and many local authorities are already picking such animals up.

“I hope that the attention and support shown by the 100,000-plus signatures collected by my constituent Heléna and her team set a trend of expectation of changes in law to end that practice quickly and reunite parents with their cats.”

Mr Day added: “We already scan dead pets found on the motorway and on the strategic road network - a positive move following the work of Harvey’s Army, which secured Harvey’s Law. Harvey was a miniature poodle who went missing in November 2013; he was microchipped and wore a collar and tag. Just 21 minutes after he went missing, his body was recovered; it was stored and then cremated, yet no contact was made with his owners, who, with friends, searched for 13 weeks before discovering what happened to him. Harvey’s Army is a registered charity and has grown to include more than 300 volunteers across England, Scotland and Wales, who are active in trying to identify and connect families with their lost pets.

“Following a parliamentary debate in 2015, the government committed to requiring Highways England to scan all pets found and, if a microchip is found, to inform the owners.

“However, most cats are killed on minor roads, and what to do remains at the discretion of local authorities. Gizmo’s Legacy calls for the same model to be implemented on council roads, paths and all locations that councils collect from, to ensure the same empathy and respect for cats and dogs wherever they are found.

“Some councils already have a procedure in place, but it varies from council to council; “best practice” is followed very loosely and often ignored, or it relies on animal-loving council staff with an understanding of how they would feel if their own pet were found dead.

“The way in which the country supported this petition has been heartfelt. It shows the passion people feel for the need for Gizmo’s law. Obviously, the general public were unaware of the practice of many councils, but are grateful to have had it brought to their attention and to have the opportunity to press the government to amend it. Cats as well as dogs are part of the family. They are not a commodity to be disposed of on rubbish heaps.

“For people to lose their cat or dog to a road traffic accident and never have the opportunity to say goodbye rips the heart out of families and wrecks lives. Why have their beloved pet chipped just to be disregarded and thrown away as trash? It takes seconds to scan a microchip, to get the details and to inform the owner.

“Given that we encourage microchipping as best practice, we need to follow up to make it worthwhile for people to do it. Of course, not all animals are microchipped, so to be fair to councils, it is sometimes not possible to find owners even when they scan.”

Closing the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, David Rutley, said: “We must do all we can to improve cat welfare. The benefits of microchipping are well known; that is why I am planning to issue, when I can, a call for evidence on making cat microchipping compulsory. It will be an important step forward for much-loved cats across the country. 

“It is right that we do all we can to encourage local authorities and others to scan the fallen pets that they find, and I will work with colleagues across government to see what more we can do to promote and encourage good practice in this area.

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