POLICE in Wantage have got their hands on new technology to help them find out whether dogs used for illegal harecoursing have been stolen.

Officers have bought a microchip scanner which allows them to check who a dog belongs to and where it lives.

The unique identification number from the pet’s microchip is stored on a national database, which allows police to trace its details quickly.

Pc Steve Lynch bought the £100 equipment as part of Operation Migrate, the force’s annual campaign against harecoursing in the Vale of White Horse.

Pc Lynch said stolen pets were often used in the bloodsport, where gangs invade farmers’ fields to chase hares with dogs.

Bets are placed on lurchers or greyhounds which race to kill hares.

He said: “When we have checked dogs at these events in the past we have discovered a number have been stolen.

“The scanner will allow us to check all dogs quickly and easily, and identify if any of them have been reported stolen.”

Pc Lynch said: “We will also be using them when attending warrants at addresses where we suspect there may be a large number of animals kept.

“We recommend that owners have their dogs microchipped by their vet as soon as possible.

“Once an animal is chipped, we recommend it wears a disc on its collar with the word “microchipped” to encourage anyone who finds the dog to have it scanned to trace the owner and to deter thieves.”

Microchip scanners are also used by vets, dog wardens, the RSPCA and other animal rescue organisations.

Pc Lynch added: “Dogs are often part of the family and if you lose a dog it’s like losing a family member.

“If we can reunite a stolen dog with the family that’s a big plus.”

Last year, Internet entrepreneur Nick Carpenter, from Bicester, set up Oxfordshire Animal Finders after he lost Cooper, one of his cats.

The initiative has hundreds of volunteers signed up to a Pet Watch scheme – a countywide network of people kept informed of missing and lost pets and animals. Last night, Mr Carpenter said there were 31 dogs currently missing in the county.