This year marks a significant change in dog ownership - with new laws being introduced from April that requires all dogs to be micro-chipped by their owners.
From April 2016, every pet dog in England and Scotland will need to be micro-chipped by law, in a move which the Government says will help reunite people with lost or stolen pets and track down the owners of vicious or illegal dogs.
Micro-chipping for dogs in Wales became law in March 2015, while Northern Ireland introduced compulsory chipping as early as April 2012.
Lost and stray dogs cost the taxpayer and welfare charities £33 million per year. A microchip makes it much easier to reunite a dog with its owner.
The announcement has been welcomed by many responsible dog-owners in Derbyshire, after figures revealed that almost 2,000 dogs have been found roaming in just two local authority areas in the last five years.
In some years less than half the number of people who lost their pet dog actually reported them missing, while only around one-in-two dogs were eventually reunited with their owners.
According to figures provided by Chesterfield Borough Council and North East Derbyshire Dictrict Council, hundreds of dogs are picked up by wardens every year.
In Chesterfield, between April and December 2015, a total of 155 strays were picked up by council wardens.
Meanwhile, in North East Derbyshire, the figure is 113 over the same period - demonstrating an increase for the authority on the previous year.
According to the figures, in Chesterfield 223 dogs were picked up in 2010-11, 287 in 2011-12, 267 in 2012-13, 306 in 2013-14, and 300 between April 2014 and March 2015.
For the authority, 2013-14 was the worst year on recent record for our canine companions, with the most number of strays found at 306 - of which just 95 were reported missing by their owners, while just 142 were safely returned home. A total of 18 of these were put to sleep.
In 2014-15, of the 300 strays picked up in the borough, just 107 were reported missing by their owners, while 199 were returned home. A total of 25 of the strays were put to sleep.
Councillor Chris Ludlow, Chesterfield Borough Council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing said: “We know how distressing it is when someone loses a dog – that is why we encourage all owners to have their dogs micro-chipped.
“This costs £16 and will allow our dog warden to return their pets directly without the cost of putting them into kennels, which can prove expensive for owners.”
In North East Derbyshire, the number of strays picked up was significantly lower, while the number of pets returned to their homes was also higher.
According to the figures, provided after the Derbyshire Times made Freedom of Information requests to both authorities, so far this year 113 strays have been picked up in the district - the second highest figure since the authority started recording the statistics in 2012-13.
However, from this 113, just over two-thirds (76 dogs) were reunited with their owners. A total of four dogs were put to sleep and the remainder were either rehomed or placed in animal shelters.
In 2014-15, just 99 strays were recovered in the district, of which 70 were returned or reclaimed.
North East Derbyshire District Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for the Environment, Councillor Michael Gordon said: “We have done a huge amount of work in our local communities on educating people on responsible dog ownership and the forthcoming law changes.
“This included putting on PetCheck Roadshows with the PDSA were we offered free micro-chipping, pet advice and health checks for dogs.
“Micro-chipping dogs has without a doubt been a huge success as it not only gives the owner the assurance that should their pet become lost or stolen, it is more likely to be returned to them safe and sound.
“But it also helps us deal with stray dogs more effectively as we can trace the owner very quickly.
“All of this has helped us educate people on their responsibilities and we are obviously seeing the benefits now.”
Figures released by the RSPCA demonstrate a year-on-year decline of the number of dogs handed into the charity as unwanted pets, with numbers spiking at the height of the economic recession.
In 2011, the charity dealt with a total of 900 unwanted dogs in Derbyshire, compared with just 619 so far in 2015.
In 2012, numbers fell to 870, followed by 821 in 2013.
In 2014, 802 dogs were handed into the charity, showing figures drop by nearly 100 over the period.
Under the Micro-chipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 – new laws that were made in February 2015 – it will be compulsory for all dogs over the age of eight weeks to be fitted with microchips from April 6 - although it is estimated that almost two million dogs nationally are still to undergo the procedure.
Micro-chipping will reduce the burden on animal charities and local authorities and help protect the welfare of dogs by promoting responsible dog ownership.
Once the new laws come into effect, if an unchipped dog comes to the attention of the authorities, its owner may be served with a notice requiring the dog to be micro-chipped, and may also face criminal prosecution.