Rookie Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) has spent his first three years in office on the warpath against Chicago’s chronically-troubled and overcrowded Animal Care and Control shelter.

Now that the city pound is at capacity yet again, Lopez is throwing embattled Executive Director Susan Russell a legislative life raft.

It happened at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, shortly after aldermen ordered Russell to develop a written animal euthanasia policy and follow basic standards for the humane treatment of impounded dangerous animals.

Lopez quietly introduced yet another ordinance to empower Chicago’s inundated army of animal care and control officers to return to their owners any dog or cat with a microchip and a “confirmed current rabies vaccination.”

The dog or cat may also be returned to its owner if Russell determines “micro-chipping and/or sterilization would endanger the life or health” of the animal or if the owner contests “micro-chipping and/or sterilization within the stray hold period” and asks for a hearing in writing.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th)

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) wants to make it easier to return some dogs and cats to their owners without having to take them to the city shelter first. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In that case, owners would have 30 days to present Animal Care and Control with proof that the owner had the dog or cat micro-chipped and/or sterilized or presented a veterinarian’s certificate stating that the animal “cannot be sterilized without endangering its life.”

Earlier this week, another alert went out declaring the David R. Lee Animal Shelter, 2741 S. Western, to be “at capacity,” with roughly 300 animals.

Lopez said something must be done to reduce the population.

“Ten percent of the animals in the shelter wind up going back to their homes. If we can keep those animals from going in there and just take them to their homes, we can easily look at a five-to-ten percent reduction in the overall population at Animal Care,” Lopez said.

“Every animal taken into custody … has to be spayed or neutered, regardless of whether it’s properly licensed or not. That has been a hindrance, both in dealing with some of the canine influenza we’ve been struggling with and preventing field returns. If they are micro-chipped, properly licensed with the rabies and city clerk’s tag and they’re within three miles of their home, the animal control officer should be able to return them to their owners instead of bringing them to Animal Care and hoping their owner realizes they’re down there. It’ll be one less animal that comes through the doors.”

Lopez acknowledged that microchip readers — costing about $800 — would be needed. The readers work like metal-detector wands, determining if an animal has a chip and reading details stored on it, like the owner’s name and address.

“There’s about four vans that go out per shift. If all the shift vans were to be totally equipped with the wand, we would only need four to get the ball rolling.”

Earlier this week, the City Council approved a resolution declaring 2018 the “Year of the Shelter Animal.”

The night before, Russell had issued the “at capacity” alert.

A similar alert went out earlier this year just weeks after Russell was rushed to a hospital after a pit bull she was walking took a chunk out of her arm and leg.

Rescue groups were subsequently offered a $100 incentive for every dog they took that was already spayed or neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped and $200 for dogs that were not. The incentive, bankrolled by a $10,000 donation, applied to dogs at the shelter at least 30 days.

“We can put all of the best laws and all of the best people on this problem. But if animals are still coming into the shelter, we’re not gonna get to the core of the problem,” Lopez said Thursday.

“This is just one instance where a simple common-sense approach to returning animals to their owners could alleviate about 10 percent of the [shelter] population.”