Coco’s Story

Coco, the chocolate Labrador, who risked facing 6 months quarantine in the UK due to a failed microchip.

• Breed : Retriever (Labrador)
• Date of Birth : 08/11/2004
• Colour : Chocolate
• Sex : Bitch
• Date of Registration : 14/12/2004

09/02/2005 : Identichip microchip inserted and scanned 985120023141766
16/06/2005 : Scanned Microchip, Rabies Vaccination RAB L138000 expiry 13/10/2007
18/07/2005 : Scanned Microchip, Rabies Blood Sample Taken
15/08/2005 : Rabies Blood Sample Result received 13.50iu/ml (>0.5)
23/05/2006 : Pet Passport Issued
27/10/2006 : Consultation and Pre Travel Health Check (including microchip being scanned)
22/03/2007 : Booster Vaccination DHPPIL and Pre Travel Health Check (including microchip being scanned)

• In line with the Pet Travel Scheme, Coco had been vaccinated against rabies, blood tested, had a valid pet passport and was fitted with a microchip. She had a pre travel health check up prior to leaving the UK.

• Sunday 15th April 2007 : My husband, Richard, our nine month old son, Joshua and myself arrived with Coco at the Eurotunnel Pet Passport Control Point. Coco was refused re-entry into the UK as her microchip could not be read. Every effort was made to read the microchip. A number of officials attempted to scan Coco, and several scanning machines were used. We were issued with a Pet Travel Scheme Failure Return, Unique Reference Number : ET00011692.

• In line with DEFRA’s current guidelines for faulty microchips, we were advised to either make arrangements for Coco to be put in quarantine when we arrived in the UK or delay Coco’s journey back to the UK until she met the conditions of the Pet Travel Scheme. We were informed that if Coco’s microchip number could not be found, she would have to begin the Pet Travel Scheme’s 6 month process all over again.

• We took Coco to a local French Vet, as recommended by staff at Eurotunnel : Coco was sedated and an X-Ray was carried out in order to attempt to locate her microchip. The microchip was located between her two shoulder blades. The French Vet still failed to get a reading from it and confirmed that Coco had a failed microchip.

• In considering Coco’s health and welfare, we faxed the Animal Health Office in Dover, who work under the umbrella of DEFRA, from the Vet’s Surgery. Our aim in sending this fax was to try and find an alternative, more humane and less traumatic solution to identifying our dog as Coco (DNA testing, identifying features such as scars from previous operations that could be verified by our UK vet) as opposed to our dog undergoing surgery for non medical purposes, but simply to remove the microchip.

• We were soon contacted by an Animal Health Officer, Chris, who stated that DEFRA refused to consider DNA testing or verifying Coco’s identifying features. We were advised to surgically remove Coco’s microchip, insert a new one, then send the failed microchip to the manufacturer’s in order to try and retrieve her unique microchip number. We were informed that she would be able to re-enter the UK in approximately a fortnight if the manufacturer could retrieve her number. If not, she would have to face quarantine in the UK or kennels in France for 6 months, whilst the Pet Passport Scheme procedure was started afresh.

• Reluctantly, we agreed for the French vet to go ahead and surgically remove Coco’s failed microchip. As a consequence of being manhandled a lot by strangers that day, both at the Pet Passport Control Point and at the Vets, Coco was clearly suffering from stress by this point and began to whimper and shake. This behaviour was extremely out of character for her and it was therefore very distressing for us to witness. We then faced an anxious wait to see if the operation was successful as all surgery under anaesthetic carries risks and the vet could not guarantee that he would find the microchip once Coco had been opened up, as it was so small and could not be felt under her skin.
Within an hour of surgery, the vet succeeded in extracting the microchip. It still failed to be read by the scanning machine. He inserted a new microchip. We returned to the UK at this point due to work commitments and our son’s medical needs. Coco recovered overnight at the vets and was transferred to French Kennels the following morning.

This photo was taken by the French Kennels several days after her operation and clearly shows the huge scar that she has suffered as a result of her surgical procedure, carried out in accordance with DEFRA’s current guidelines for failed microchips. See the following internet link : http://defraweb/animalh/quarantine/pets/procedures/support-info/microqu.htm#Q3

• Monday 16th April 2007 : The French vet sent the faulty microchip by courier to the UK distribution office : Mr Andy Pound, Identichip Animal Care. We spoke to Mr Pound the same day and explained the situation and told him to expect to receive Coco’s microchip over the next couple of days. He informed us that the manufacturer of the microchip was in fact based in Spain. Therefore, when he received the microchip, he would complete the relevant papers and forward it onto Spain via a courier. He informed us that the microchip company, Identichip, could not guarantee that the manufacturer in Spain would be able to retrieve the number of the microchip, depending on the nature of the fault and that we must therefore be prepared to face the fact that Coco may not be able to return to the UK for six months. We consequently faced an anxious few days, waiting to hear the outcome from the manufacturer. Their findings would depend on whether Coco would be able to return home within a fortnight or six months.

• Tuesday 17th April 2007 : We spoke to Mr Colin Worman at the Animal Health Office which operates under the umbrella of DEFRA and enforces its policies. He confirmed that in order for Coco to return to the UK, we needed a document from the manufacturer of the microchip to be faxed to the French Vet confirming the unique microchip number. Once this had been received, the French vet could amend Coco’s original passport. Article published in the Manchester Evening News “The Chips are down for stranded Coco”.

• Wednesday 18th April 2007 : The microchip was received by Identichip in York and was sent off to the manufacturer in Spain later on that day by a courier service, once the relevant paperwork had been completed by Mr Pound. Article published in the Daily Mail “Impounded : family forced to leave their dog in France because officials couldn’t scan its ID chip”. Coco’s plight was covered by the news channel, Channel M.

• Thursday 19th April 2007 : Coco’s plight was covered by GMTV. Article published in The Bury Times and the Whitefield and Prestwich Guide “Dog chip fault leaves Coco stuck in France”. Mr Cassidy from Quarantine Kennels in Chester, got in touch following GMTV’s footage and informed us that in his professional experience, it is not rare for microchips to fail and that although the microchip companies give a lifetime guarantee, he had found them to become unreliable after 5 years. P&O Ferries offered us unlimited free travel throughout Coco’s quarantine period.

• Friday 20th April 2007 : The editor of the Manchester Evening News, Paul Horrocks, telephoned to see if the newspaper could do anything more to help Coco’s situation. We emailed our local MP, David Chaytor, and David Miliband himself, to inform them about Coco and ask for urgent action. Discussions re Coco’s situation on Labrador Forum’s. Received photos of Coco from the French kennels :

• Saturday 21st April 2007 : Article published in the Manchester Evening News “Free Coco”.

• Sunday 22nd April 2007 : The kennels reported that Coco was barking a lot and whimpering. This behaviour is completely out of character for her and concerned us greatly. We worried about the long term effects that this traumatic separation from her owners and finding herself in a strange environment could have upon her.

• Monday 23rd April 2007 : We received great support from our MP, David Chaytor, who promised that he would speak to David Miliband, the Minister of DEFRA, personally about the matter and discuss DNA profiling as a future back up solution to failed microchips. Mr Pound at Identichip in York, informed us that he had received confirmation from the Spanish manufacturer that the number from Coco’s faulty microchip had been retrieved. The relevant documents were faxed to the French vet.

• Tuesday 24th April 2007 : Article in the Manchester Evening News, “Coco wins freedom fight”.

• Wednesday 25th April 2007 : Articles published in French newspapers: Les Echos du Touquet, Journal de Montreuil, Nord Littoral “La puce de Coco décryptée en Espagne afin qu’il puisse rentrer en Angleterre”.

• Thursday 26th April 2007 : My husband, our son and myself travelled to France with a view to returning with Coco. Article in the Bury Times and the Whitefield and Prestwich Guide, “Pet Coco is on her way home”.

• Friday 27th April 2007 : Coco was released from the Kennels. The French vet amended Coco’s pet passport in accordance with the DEFRA guidelines and administered her treatment for ticks and tapeworms, as is standard practice.

• Saturday 28th April 2007 : Coco showed signs of suffering from separation anxiety as she was noticeably clingy to us following her ordeal. Article published in the Rochdale Observer “Happy ending to dog’s tale as pet finally has its chip”.

• Sunday 29th April 2007 : Coco was authorized by the Pet Passport Control Centre at Eurotunnel to return to the UK. Her new microchip was read by the scanners and her amended passport was accepted.

• Monday 30th April 2007 : Coco’s return was covered by GMTV and Channel M. The Manchester Evening News published an article “We’ve got Coco back”.

• Tuesday 1st May 2007 : We have decided to contact Identichip in order to request that they cover our costly bills which come to a sum of just under £2000 : French vet, Kennels, Travel. We also wish to campaign to amend the law so that DNA testing can be used as a more humane solution for when a microchip fails.

• Wednesday 2nd May 2007 : Debbie from Vets Get Scanning has been closely following the media attention regarding Coco and recommended I contact the following : o Caroline Kisco, secretary of The Kennel Club. She is a strong supporter already for DNA to be recommended as a back up system to the Pet Passport Scheme. o Chris Laurence QVRM TD BVSc MRCVS, Dogs Trust, He is also chairman of the Microchip Advisory Group. He is a strong supporter already for DNA to be recommended as a back up system to the Pet Passport Scheme. o Ben Bradshaw MP, Parliament Secretary, Department for Environment, food and Rural Affairs.

• Thursday 3rd May 2007 : Article published in The Bury Times and the Whitefield and Prestwich Guide “Happy return for Coco”.


We feel that as responsible dog owners, we could not have done anything more to prevent this difficult situation with Coco arising. Despite a last minute pre travel check to the vet, Coco’s microchip still failed a short period of time afterwards.
We would not wish to face such a problem again, nor would we wish for any other British family holding a Pet Passport to go through such a traumatic experience.
It has caused the whole family a great deal of emotional stress to witness Coco undergo a risky surgical procedure carried out for non medical purposes and then be separated from us for what could have resulted in a period of up to 6 months. It has also caused us a great deal of financial stress.
We feel strongly that DEFRA’s current back up procedure, concerning the surgical removal and analysis of faulty microchips, is simply unsatisfactory as the devastating impact that this has on both the animal’s and the owner’s health and welfare cannot be ethically justified.
Microchips will continue to fail, as all technological devices have a failure rate. However, surely a more humane solution to this problem could be that pet owners involved in the PETS scheme are offered the option of having a DNA sample taken and certified by a vet so that the animal’s identity can be confirmed should a microchip fail?
Jane Birtwistle

RE: DNA SAMPLES: Regarding DNA samples and their usage for the purposes of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) please be advised that they are currently not recognized by the European Commission (EC) as suitable evidence of pet identification. Regulation (EC) 998/2003 (as amended) clearly states that pets “shall be regarded as identified where they bear …either a clearly readable tattoo; or…an electronic identification system (transponder) (Microchip)”.
With the above in mind, pets may currently only be identified by use of a microchip, or by a tattoo (in certain countries) in order to be compliant with PETS. This is an EC requirement and it is therefore not exclusive to the UK, or to DEFRA.
A recent review of PETS has taken place, the results of which are still being compiled by the relevant departments within the European Union. Essentially, changes to PETS requirements may be deemed necessary as a result of said review and this may include the usage of DNA as identification for pets. However, this information has not yet been forwarded to this department and as such we are awaiting the results of the review. Changes (if any) to PETS will be detailed on our website as soon as the information becomes available.
With best wishes,
Ben Bradshaw.
Our advice would be that if you are traveling on the Pet Travel Scheme get a DNA test done – just in case!
This would be sensible option and back up system if a microchip malfunctions.
Don’t forget to get your microchip checked regularly.
Information about DNA profiling can be obtained from:
Mrs Symone Ingram or Mrs Vikki Lett Genetics
Department Animal Health Trust
Lanwades Park
Suffolk CB8 7UU
T: 08700 509144
or you can contact your vet.

At the Animal Health Trust, we offer a DNA profiling service for dogs, in collaboration with the Kennel Club.
Dogs can be profiled from a cheek swab, so the process is not invasive and is often done by breeders themselves, rather than taking the dog to a vet. We can also, however, carry out profiling on blood samples if that is required.
Once we have the profile, it is stored on a database at the AHT for future reference. The owner is sent a certificate from the Kennel Club to confirm that that dog has been DNA profiled.
Each dog has a DNA profile that is unique, and one of the reasons for introducing the scheme was for cases such as Coco. When it was discovered that Coco’s microchip was not readable, then a cheek swab could have been taken and DNA profiled, and the profile compared with the previous profile to verify Coco’s identity. The technology is very similar to that used for human DNA profiling which is now, of course, routinely used for identity matching and for parentage verification.