Monday, January 19, 2009

Digitized pets

I am sure there will be a hue and outcry over this law.

Somehow folks believe they can just let their pets run free, maybe this will be curtailed now.

San Marcos makes animal laws stricter
By Andrea Lorenz American-Statesman

SAN MARCOS — The city strengthened its animal protection laws recently, becoming one of a few cities in the country to require microchips for pets, but it stopped short of banning the chaining of dogs because officials said they didn't want to burden residents financially.

"It's time for people to step up and be a little progressive," said Bert Stratemann, the San Marcos animal services manager. Pets are considered property in Texas, so like other prized belongings — such as cars, bicycles and some electronics — they should be registered, he says.

Among other things, the law will prohibit selling animals in parking lots and on public property, a measure Stratemann said is aimed at deterring unregistered pet breeders, and will make clear what owners are responsible for in terms of providing their pets with adequate food, water and shelter.

The animal control department had trouble enforcing the previous, vaguely written rules about animal care, Stratemann said. The San Marcos Animal Shelter Advisory Board began a review of the ordinance about a year ago. The City Council approved the revisions in December, and the rules go into effect April 1.

Some residents have raised concerns on Internet message boards about the changes, particularly the mandatory microchipping, saying it's an infringement on personal rights. The city has received 10 to 15 calls from people who are angry about the requirement and accuse the city of changing the law to make money in fees, Stratemann said.

Pet owners at the San Marcos dog park Thursday said they weren't worried about the new rules. Of a half-dozen or so dogs, all either already had microchips or had appointments to get them.

San Antonio and Albuquerque, N.M. are among the few cities that require microchips, which are implanted just under the skin on an animal's neck. Owners of lost animals can be identified by the information encoded on the chip and kept in local and national databases.

Microchipping can cost $10 to $60, Stratemann said. The city charges $20.

Pet owners who fail to provide microchips for their cats and dogs could see fines of up to $500. But Stratemann said in most cases, the fines could be lessened or dropped if pet owners show a judge proof of subsequent microchipping. The city plans to hold low-cost microchipping events, but the dates, location and cost have not been set.

John Snyder, the vice president for companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States, said it's hard to tell how many U.S. cities require microchips. The Humane Society recommends microchips, Snyder said, but "first and foremost," pets should wear identification tags on their collars because anyone on the street can read tags.

Chips are helpful if a collar is missing, he says, but the animal must be taken to the vet or a shelter to be scanned.

Officials said the city considered a ban on dog-chaining but rejected it after deciding that the needed fencing would be too costly to residents.

The city shelter euthanized 73 percent of the 5,555 animals it took in last year, according to city figures. The revised animal control law, which also has rules on managing feral cat colonies, should bring that rate down, said Stratemann, who has worked for San Marcos' animal control department for eight years.

"It's my ultimate goal to not have my position," Stratemann said. "If I could make it to where there's no more animals coming in to the shelter and we have to close the facility ... everybody over here would be the most excited people in the world."