Someone at City Hall has been doing the math: an estimated 500,000 dog owners in Chicago, according to the Anti-Cruelty Society; more than 100,000 rabies shots given each year, according to Cook County records, and only 27,918 Chicago dog licenses sold in 2010.
City Clerk Susana Mendoza and the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control are out to tweak those figures. They are launching a campaign to educate dog owners that will feature a dog registration contest with prizes and low-cost rabies vaccinations at city-run events (the last round of low-cost vaccinations ended October 2).
Starting in February, however, the honeymoon will be over, according to Cherie Travis, the CACC executive director. Tickets will be issued to the owners of unlicensed dogs, and fines range from $30-$200. The law has been on the books, but Travis said it had “not been enforced in the past.”
Dog licenses in Chicago are cheap. A spayed or neutered dog license costs $5, and an unneutered canine license is $50. Senior citizens’ rates are bargain basement — $2.50 for a neutered dog, $5 for unneutered.
Los Angeles demands neutering (with some exemptions for show and service dogs) and charges $20 for a license, four times the Chicago rate. New York City charges $8.50 for neutered dogs and $34 for dogs without proof of neutering; there is no senior citizen discount.
To get a dog license in any city, the owner must have the dog vaccinated for rabies. A Chicago dog license is a metal tag attached to the dog’s rabies vaccination tag.
Two Chicago aldermen said they were concerned about the increased enforcement of dog licenses. Walter Burnett (27) would like fines reduced for first offenders, and both Burnett and Brendan Reilly (43) wondered aloud if the city had the resources to increase enforcement.
Burnett was concerned that low-income seniors would be the targets of increased enforcement and told the Chicago Sun-Times that “the ticket should cost what the license costs.” Burnett didn’t explain what would motivate owners to license their pets in that case, rather than waiting to be found in violation.
Reilly — a dogowner who’s in favor of increasing license compliance — told the Sun-Times, “Our inspectors and our police officers are spread awfully thin with other code enforcement issues.”
Utilizing rabies vaccination lists compiled by Cook County, however, the city could enforce the licensing law administratively rather than relying solely on field personnel.
CACC’s animal control officers take in more than 20,000 animals a year. The city operates 18 trucks and a 54,000 square foot building that can house more than 500 animals. While CACC participates in the Chicago Animal Shelter Alliance, an effort to reduce animal destruction, the ASPCA estimates that “five out of 10 dogs in shelters and seven out of 10 cats in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them.”
The agency has been the subject of reports in the last two years chronicling the unexplained death of a runaway dog being transported to the pound and subsequent withholding of information to the dog’s owner; the mistaken destruction of four dogs and a subsequent cover-up that resulted in the chief veterinarian’s resignation, and a WGN-TV exposé of overcrowding and understaffing at the city pound.