In the first move of its kind in Switzerland, canton Geneva has made it obligatory from the New Year for dog owners to fit their pets with an electronic chip to improve tracking.
Owners have until the end of the month to have the device fitted or face a stiff fine. The "electronic flea" is a small chip inserted via a needle into the dog's left shoulder.
The authorities say they firmly believe the new system will be more effective than the old one.
"Since 1967, all dogs have had to wear a collar with the name and address of the owner," said Astride Rod, head of the Cantonal Veterinary Office. "But this system is simply not reliable."
"On numerous occasions we've been faced with situations where dogs have lost their collars or had them pulled off in a fight, and it's been impossible to track down the owner."
The chip implanted under the skin will ensure that this does not happen any more, she says.
"The electronic flea is lodged under the skin, it will carry on working longer than the dog's life. It's a reliable and completely fail-safe system," she told swissinfo.
The Animal Identity Service (ANIS) is offering a discount rate until the end of the month of SFr55 to owners who still need to have their dogs tagged. Afterwards the price will rise to the normal SFr70.
Rod says the dog suffers no pain when the device is inserted: "It's just like injecting a vaccine - only the needle is just a little bit bigger. You don't have to use an anaesthetic, and it doesn't hurt the animal."
Once the flea is lodged in the animal, the vet reads its unique code with a scanner. This information is then passed on to the national database, the Animal Identity Service. Its staff then pass on the details to a European database and put them on an Internet website.
"The main benefit is proving who the owner is if there's a dispute. People often get into fights over the ownership of the dogs. Often the paperwork has been lost. With the new system, the dog obviously belongs to the person in whose name it was registered," Astride Rod explains.
"There are also benefits for the animal. Between 550 and 600 dogs are lost in Geneva every year. Some run away and some are stolen. And thanks to this flea, we can reunite them with their owners much more quickly. Being with a different family and having a different diet can be very stressful for a dog. Furthermore, the quicker the owner is found, the less it costs the canton," she says.
There are an estimated 20,000 dogs in canton Geneva, 18,000 of whose owners pay their dog licence. It's hoped that the electronic flea will make it easier to track down irresponsible owners, to ensure that all dogs are inoculated against disease and keep a closer watch on the trade in animals.
by Roy Probert