Animal charities and vets have welcomed this month's ruling to make it compulsory for all dogs in England to be microchipped by 2016.
Around 110,000 stray dogs are picked up by police, local authorities and animal welfare charities in the UK each year, with around half unable to be reunited with their owner because they cannot be identified. More than 6,000 dogs are put down annually, while strays cost the taxpayer and welfare charities an estimated £57 million a year.
The Government says the ruling would help reunite owners with lost or stolen pets as well as improving the welfare of dogs.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson explains: "It's ludicrous that in a nation of dog lovers, thousands of dogs are roaming the streets or stuck in kennels because the owner cannot be tracked down.
"I am determined to put an end to this and ease the pressure on charities and councils to find new homes for these dogs.
"Microchipping is a simple solution that gives peace of mind to owners. It makes it easier to get their pet back if it strays or is stolen."
From April 2016, police officers and local authorities will have the power to check if dogs have been been microchiped. A national database of dogs will be created by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and owners who refuse to comply with microchipping face fines of £500.
So how can responsible owners get their dogs microchipped?
A microchip (technically called a Radio Frequency Identification Device or RFID) is a small electronic device, which is the size of a grain of rice. The microchip is coded with a unique number that can be read by a scanner that energises the microchip using a radio signal.
The microchip is implanted under the skin between the shoulder blades. The process is carried out by a suitably trained person, and no anaesthetic is needed. Once implanted correctly, the microchip is unlikely to fail and so provides lifelong permanent identification.
Does it hurt? No, say the experts: "Microchipping just feels like a small pinch or mild sting – akin to a minor injection. The dog does not feel the chip at all after it has been inserted," says Clarissa Baldwin of Dogs Trust, a charity which is assigning £6 million to offer free microchipping for all dogs. Once the microchip has been inserted, the dog's body tissue surrounding it attaches itself, preventing movement of the chip.
Clarissa welcomes and supports the Government's decision. "For many years Dogs Trust has led the campaign for the introduction of compulsory microchipping and we applaud the decision the Government has taken which represents a hugely significant and progressive breakthrough for dog welfare.
"As the UK's largest welfare charity, reducing the UK's stray dog population is at the heart of what we do. This is why we have committed a considerable amount of money to ensure no dog owners will lack the financial ability to microchip their dog. Currently, microchipping involves a minimal one-off cost, but the benefits last a lifetime.
"No matter how responsible an owner you are, there is a chance your dog could get lost or stolen – microchipping is the most effective way to assist in a lost dog being returned to their owner."
For information on how and where to get your dog microchipped in the Westcountry, see left.