LONDON (AP) -- Dog owners who refuse to fit Fido with a microchip may someday find themselves fetching a hefty fine, the British government said Wednesday.
All dogs in England will have to be fitted with microchips by 2016, authorities said, meaning that canines across the country will be chasing cars with a tiny circuit embedded in the back of their necks.
Britain's Environment Department said that the chips would help reunite owners with lost or stolen pets, promote animal welfare and take the pressure off animal shelters.
"It's a shame 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," Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said in a statement. "Microchipping is a simple solution that gives peace of mind to owners."
Many British pet owners already have veterinarians insert chips under the skin of dogs, cats, and rabbits in a bid to keep track of their animals. The Environment Department says 60 percent of Britain's 8 million pet dogs already have microchips, which can be scanned and matched to their owners' details.
But officials say what was once an optional extra will become mandatory in three years. Owners who refuse to fit their dogs with chips face fines of up to 500 pounds ($800).
Horse owners have had to chip their animals since 2009, a spokeswoman for the Environment Department said Wednesday. The chips will remain optional for cats -- because dogs are out in public more often than their feline counterparts, a spokeswoman said.
Different parts of the United Kingdom have different rules governing pets: The chips are compulsory in Northern Ireland; Wales is considering such a move; Scotland has no such rule.
Inserting chips into animals' necks is a technique used worldwide to keep track both of domestic animals and livestock, although rules vary according to country. German shepherds can bound across Berlin chip-free, but Chihuahuas in Milan and Portuguese water dogs in Lisbon can't be caught without. In some parts of Spain, cats need chips too.
Alan Clendenning in Madrid, Victor Simpson in Rome, and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' site on microchips: http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/pets/general/microchipping
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li/twitter