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No dog license? You could finally face a ticket in Chicago

A French bulldog is pictured earlier this year. l Keith Hale~Sun-Times file

A French bulldog is pictured earlier this year. l Keith Hale~Sun-Times file

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Updated: November 27, 2011 12:48PM

Chicago dog owners have been thumbing their noses at the city’s mandatory dog license for decades without consequence — but those days may be coming to an end.

A dog-loving city that sold just 27,918 licenses last year, less than 5 percent of an estimated 560,000-strong dog population, is preparing to show its bite by ticketing negligent dog owners.

The crackdown will follow a 90-day education campaign spearheaded by City Clerk Susana Mendoza and the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control. It will feature low-cost rabies vaccines at events across the city and an online dog registration contest with prizes donated by local businesses.

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

“We can ticket people . . . that is part of the plan. At the end of the period of time we give people to get the dog license, if they didn’t obtain it, it’s a ticket that ranges between $50 and $200 for not having a dog license,” Cherie Travis, executive director of the Commission on Animal Care and Control, said Tuesday after testifying at City Council budget hearings. “Dog licensing has not been enforced in the past, so we are looking to make sure that people have plenty of notice before we would take any enforcement measures. The goal really is that people who have gotten the dog license have also gotten their dogs rabies-vaccinated.”

Pressed on how the ordinance would be enforced, Travis said, “If there’s a complaint [or] if somebody was walking a dog and a police officer or animal control officer said, ‘I want to see the license’ . . . they could ask for it.”

Chicago aldermen who own dogs welcomed the long-overdue crackdown on unlicensed dogs. But Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) warned that the fines should start small to avoid taking too big a bite out of the fixed incomes of senior citizens.

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

“For some people, dogs are their family. Some people feed their dog before they feed themselves. I’m concerned about the little old lady who has a dog and may not be able to afford a dog license or doesn’t know about getting a dog license,” Burnett said. “Every dog should be licensed. Every dog should get a rabies shot. But what are they gonna do when they come down on people? A $200 ticket is too much. The ticket should cost what the license costs.”

Apparently referring to the City Council’s recent decision to turn back the curfew clock for young kids, Burnett said, “It’s sort of like the curfew thing. I mean — do we have the officers to really enforce it?”

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who has two licensed dogs, expressed similar concerns.

“It hasn’t been an enforcement priority in the past. So, we’ll see. Obviously, our inspectors and our police officers are spread awfully thin with other code enforcement issues,” he said.

“I’m not quite sure exactly how enforcement will be carried out. But registering your dog with the city is a requirement. Pursuing enforcement more aggressively will help with compliance,” Reilly said.

Mendoza teased the upcoming crackdown during her budget hearing last week without mentioning the ticketing component.

“I believe that dog registration is an area where we have a significant opportunity to increase revenues,” she said then.

For years, dog owners who failed to purchase dog licenses got a pass.

That changed in 2005, when the clerk’s office finally put the computer software in place to match its short list of licensed dogs with Cook County’s 100,000-plus list of Chicago dogs with rabies shots.

Warning letters were then mailed to those whose names appeared on the county’s list, but not the city’s, prompting a small boost in registration.

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