Pet owners in San Antonio could soon be required to have their cats and dogs undergo a quick and inexpensive microchip implant, replacing what officials say has been an unsuccessful pet-licensing program.
San Antonio Animal Care Services (ACS) is proposing microchip implants as an amendment to the current city ordinance regulating pet licensing. The City Council is scheduled to consider the proposed amendment April 30, and was briefed on the proposal at Wednesday’s B Session.
Representatives with ACS and some council members like the proposal, but others worry the amended ordinance might not be enforceable and would be a financial burden for low-income pet owners.
The current ordinance requires licenses for any cat or dog that is four months old or older. The license must be renewed annually and can only be acquired through ACS. Two and three-year licenses are available, too, with proof of an up-to-date rabies vaccination.
All cat licenses and a license for neutered or spayed dogs cost $5 for one year. A license for an unsterilized dog license costs $50 for one year. Failure to license a pet can result in a fine of up to $250.
ACS Director Kathy Davis told city leaders that the city’s current pet license program has not met goals. While ACS has issued an increased number of free and paid-for licenses over the last few years, that number – 23,680 in fiscal year 2014 – still is a small percentage of the city’s pet population. Renewal rates are a low 25%, she added.
“We can get a pet owner to get a license the first time around. Renewals are the problem,” said Davis. Switching to microchips, Davis said, means a pet owner would be charged only once in a pet’s lifetime. A microchip through ACS costs $20 presently, but a pet owner can acquire a microchip at any veterinarian’s office or animal shelter when they adopt the pet.
Implants would make it easier to establish the ownership of lost or loose pets, freeing up kennel space at animal shelters, and allow the city to hold accountable more pet owners. A pet owner can update a pet’s information, such as an address change, for the duration of the animal’s life. The city’s present ordinance already requires a microchip implant for any pet impounded at ACS.
Davis shared three anecdotes where a pet lost in San Antonio, thanks to a microchip, found his or her way back to its owners, with a little human assistance. In one case, one dog was lost for four years but was reunited with his family after ACS picked him up and found him to have a microchip. Davis said there was a 35% increase in pets returned to owners thanks to microchips in fiscal year 2014.
Under the proposed ordinance change, a pet with a current city license would remain registered until that license expires. A notice would then be mailed to the owner notifying them to acquire a microchip implant for the animal. An annual permit in addition to a chip would be required for pets deemed aggressive or dangerous.
“This will make a difference in the community,” Rita Braeutigam, ACS advisory board member, said at the meeting. “We’re going to get a lot more pets back home.”
Council members representing inner-city districts, where the stray animal population remains a serious problem and where some pet owners allow their animals to roam freely, expressed concern that some residents will ignore the microchip requirement. Councilmember Alan Warrick (D2) asked how a change in policy would impact the local stray animal population.
Davis said there is “no calculator” that estimates the number of strays around San Antonio but making microchips mandatory would “help with the roaming population – determine who is really a stray or just a lost pet.”
“When (ACS adopts) out an animal, they’ll go out with a chip. If they come back to us, we’ll know instantly who they belong to,” Davis said.
Davis also said she expects more compliance with microchip implants because it is a onetime payment with no renewal required. If a pet is found loose without a chip by authorities, the pet owner will be cited. A pet owner with financial issues would not be required to pay for the chip during a veterinarian visit.
Answering another question from Warrick, Davis said ACS would push for a variety of ways to bolster public outreach to let pet owners know about the new policy and its advantages for the city and for pet owners. Implementation would include mobile clinics in neighborhoods throughout San Antonio, especially in lower-income areas.
“We’d do our best to educate our neighbors and tell them what’s expected of them,” she said, adding that this move would help the city to have “a healthy conversation with pet owners and help them to become more responsible.”
Such a change could result in ACS seeing an overall slight drop in revenues associated with traditional pet licenses, but no new expenses nor staffing will be required on campus.
Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3) said she’s worried about “unintended consequences” – some lower-income pet owners or those with multiple pets may decide not to comply. She asked whether the city could call for something akin to a fixed microchip-per-pet fee citywide.
“We need to make sure we do something that’s enforceable but still helpful for the community,” she said. Davis responded that while the city could not require a fixed price of sorts for veterinarians implanting microchips, a change in policy could spark competitive pricing among clinics, which in turn could help pet owners in low-income areas.
Councilmember Rey Saldaña (D4) said a change in pet licensing could satisfy two constituencies: One that wants to see ways to improve San Antonio’s mission to become a no-kill city by 2020, and the other that simply wants to increase public safety in one’s neighborhood.
Saldaña also asked whether ACS would be open to receiving a grant to fund the free provision of microchips in a few mobile clinics. Davis said a $50,000 grant would fund 15,000 free microchips.
“The more chips we get into more animals, the better off our community will be,” Davis said. Saldaña suggested the council could approve the change and ask ACS for an update later this summer.
San Antonio Animal Care Services representatives brought some adoptable puppies into Wednesday’s City Council B session.
*Featured/top image: A rescued dog lies in the comfort of a home. Courtesy photo of San Antonio Pets Alive.
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