Chicago’s inundated army of animal care and control officers got a legislative life raft Wednesday that, a dog-loving alderman hopes, will reduce the population of the overcrowded city pound by as much as ten percent.

Rookie Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) has spent his first three years in office on the warpath against leadership of the chronically-troubled and overcrowded David R. Lee Animal Shelter, 2741 S. Western.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved his ordinance to empower 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 director Susan 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.

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.”

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

Lopez says it’s time to do something dramatic to reduce the population.

“This ordinance would empower our animal control officers to return animals caught within three miles of their home back to their owners without having to go to Animal Care and Control,” Lopez said Wednesday, predicting a “five-to-ten percent reduction” in the population of the city pound.

“At a time when we are looking for ways to make our dollars stretch, to help our director keep the shelter clear of animals, this is a forward-thinking approach to dealing with the animals that we catch that are properly-licensed.”

Lopez acknowledged that microchip readers — costing about $800 — would be needed, but hopes private donations will cover the minor expense.

“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,” the alderman has said.

The readers work like metal-detector wands; if the animal has a chip, the device can read information stored on it, such as the owner’s name and address.

Last month, the City Council approved a resolution declaring 2018 the “Year of the Shelter Animal.” Aldermen also ordered Russell to develop a written animal euthanasia policy and follow basic standards for the humane treatment of impounded dangerous animals.

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.

“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.”