AN 'alarming' number of dogs found straying on the streets in County Durham may never be reunited with their owners because they aren’t microchipped.

Around half the dogs handed in to Prince Bishop Veterinary Hospital in Leadgate and Crook cannot be identified because their owners are breaking the law.

Since April 6 last year, it has been a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped. However, some owners are risking hefty fines of up to £500 and face losing their pet forever by failing to comply with the law.

The latest figures issued by Durham County Council reveal the authority received 1,778 complaints about stray dogs, while neighbourhood wardens collected 1,173 dogs off the streets.

In an effort to get people to microchip their pets Prince Bishop Vets is holding a free microchipping day in association with the Dogs Trust at its branch in Hope Street, Crook, on November 2.

Dr Christina Stubbins, Clinical Director at Prince Bishop Vets, said: “Around 50 per cent of the strays handed in to us can’t be reunited with their owners because they aren’t microchipped and don’t have a collar with tag which is also a breaking the law.

“If this is the case we have no way of tracing the owner. We do take photos and post on Facebook which might be seen by 10,000 users, but if that fails we have to call in the dog warden which means it may be rehomed.”

Dr Stubbins added that owners are also breaking the law by not updating their microchip details when they move home.

She said: “It can be very sad for a dog to go to a warden and then to a new home, never to be reunited with its owner. We encourage everyone to come along and have their pet chipped.

“The vast majority of people who don’t have their dogs microchipped aren’t flouting the law on purpose. They may have just forgotten.”

The electronic chips have a unique identity number linked to a national register enabling vets to find the owner’s name and address so contact can be made.

During the free microchip session, advice will also be given on neutering and general health care.

The surgery will also microchip cats and rabbits on the same day for £13 – a discount of £5 on the normal price.

Refreshments will be available.