City gearing up to collar dog owners with unlicensed pooches

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Chicago’s carrot-and-stick appeal to the owners of 470,000 unlicensed dogs has more than doubled registration, setting the stage for a May ticketing blitz – complete with undercover stings at dog parks and the bite that comes with $30-to-$200 fines.

More than 9,100 Chicagoans have registered their dogs since January, when City Clerk Susana Mendoza launched a combination, “Dog of Distinction” contest and public awareness campaign.

That’s more than double the 4,543 dogs registered during the same period last year. Dog registration revenue is up 118 percent over last year – to $91,419 through March 19. The number of registered dogs stands at 38,017 – still a far cry from the estimated 500,000 dogs in Chicago.

“A lot of people have no clue they’re supposed to license their dog. And even with this education campaign, your everyday person has so many other important things on their mind. Dog registration is not a priority. I understand that,” Mendoza said Thursday.

“Our job is to take a program we have a municipal mandate to enforce and make people aware of it. Dog licensing is an area that was on the absolute back-burner with prior administrations. I intend to change that. [But], we have a long way to go.”

Once the “Dog of Distinction” is chosen by internet voting and an array of prizes are distributed, the stick will come out.

Some time in May, the city will start ticketing Chicago owners of unlicensed dogs who have been thumbing their noses at the city’s mandatory dog license for decades without consequence.

Pressed on how the ordinance would be enforced, Mendoza said the crackdown will be “complaint-driven”–but not entirely.

“Animal Care is going to be doing stings and visiting dog parks. If they see an unlicensed dog, they’ll start issuing tickets. There’s going to be an absolute crackdown,” the clerk said.

Chicago Police officers will also be asked to write tickets if they encounter unlicensed dogs while responding to other crimes, including domestic violence calls, Mendoza said.

“What I don’t want you to say is that police will be stopping people on the street asking for licenses. That would not be the intention unless it looks like you have a dog that doesn’t have anything on it,” the clerk said.

“But, when police walk into a home on a complaint not related to the dog – once they’re already there as a secondary thing – they can ask for proof of license. That’s an opportunity to enforce the law. It’s not a primary responsibility of police. But, there are lots of opportunities for them to issue tickets.”

The license fee for neutered dogs remains a bargain at $5, compared to a non-neutered fee of $50. For senior citizens, the rates are $2.50 and $5 respectively.

In order to purchase a dog license, owners must first show proof that their dogs have been vaccinated for rabies. The dog license is a sticker affixed to the metal rabies tag.

Licenses for either one or three years can be purchased online at Applications will also be mailed to dog owners who call 312 744 DOGS (3647).

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last fall that a dog-loving city where fewer than five percent of all dogs were registered was preparing to show its bite by ticketing negligent dog owners.

After ridiculing the question at trivial, Mayor Rahm Emanuel endorsed the crackdown.

“Look. We all love our individual pets. I grew up with them myself. But, the system falls apart if you don’t have comprehensive and total enforcement. … You can’t have some people abiding by the law and others getting a break,” the mayor said then.

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