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Chicago using donated microchip scanners to relieve overcrowding at city pound

Chicago's Animal Care and Control shelter. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago is moving to relieve overcrowding at the city pound one month after firing the executive director of Animal Care and Control for allegedly “warehousing” dogs there in conditions that made dangerous dogs only more so.

In April, the City Council threw Chicago’s inundated army of animal care and control officers a legislative life raft.

The ordinance, championed by dog-loving Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), empowers the city to use mobile microchip scanners to scan lost pets and return them to their owners without processing them through the shelter, 2741 S. Western.

On Thursday, City Hall announced that the rescue plan is being implemented, using 50 microchip scanners donated by the Animal Farm Foundation and 10 more given by Best Friends Animal Society.

Animal Care and Control officers started scanner training in June and the diversion program got a “soft launch” and a slow start on July 18.

According to the city, 69 stray dogs and 75 stray cats were scanned, but none of those 144 animals had microchips. Ten more animals — eight dogs and two cats — had microchips. But they were brought to the city pound anyway because of illness, injury or because they were “unable to be safely scanned in the field,” officials said.

Pets can be returned without being processed at the city pound, only if the owner lives within a three-mile radius of where the animal was recovered and has a “confirmed rabies vaccination.”

To qualify for immediate return, the dog or cat must be healthy, and the microchip or tag must contain an up-to-date address.

Police and animal control officers have been directed to ask for a photo ID from the pet’s owner before returning the dog or cat.

Despite the slow start, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is holding out hope that the diversion program will ultimately reduce overcrowding at the city pound by quickly reuniting “hundreds” of dogs and cats with their owners.

In a news release touting the program, Emanuel noted that “half of the animals that come through the doors” of the city shelter are strays.

“Our goal is to return as many of them to their homes as quickly as possible,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

Susan Taney, director of Lost Dogs Illinois, noted that strays comprise 60 percent of the city’s animal intake.

“This program will help decrease intake, thereby freeing up kennel space for truly homeless animals,” Taney was quoted as saying in the city’s news release.

In recent days and weeks, alerts have gone out declaring the city pound “at capacity,” with roughly 300 animals.