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Wilma the chocolate Lab new poster pup for getting your pet licensed

City Clerk SusanMendozannounces 1st Dog DistinctiChocolate Lab named 'Wilma'. Friday May 25 2012.  | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times.

City Clerk Susana Mendoza announces the 1st Dog of Distinction, a Chocolate Lab named "Wilma". Friday, May 25, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:28AM

Gregg Syzmanski is about to become a father in December. But he refers to his 10-month-old chocolate Labrador Wilma as his “first kid.”

On Friday, Syzmanski was one proud papa as Wilma was named Chicago’s first-ever “Dog of Distinction.”

It’s more than an empty title, achieved after five newly-licensed dogs were chosen at random for an online contest that drew 2,000 votes from Chicago owners of registered dogs.

Syzmanski, his pregnant wife and Wilma will receive a series of prizes, including a dog tag replica of the Chicago flag with real rubies and topazes valued at $2,000 and a weekend stay at the dog-friendly Palmer House Hilton.

Syzmanski, who bought Wilma from a breeder in Central Illinois, didn’t leave anything to chance.

“I did a little Facebook campaign, told some friends from work and she ended up being selected. It’s real cool, especially because it’s the first ‘Dog of Distinction.’ There’s only one first,” said Syzmanski, 28, who grew up watching “The Flintstones.”

“I wouldn’t say I campaigned super hard. It was only one Facebook post: ‘Please vote for my dog.’ My sister helped spread the word at the local dog park and the word got out. I’m a good father. In my opinion, she was the cutest dog to choose from.”

Now that the carrots have been distributed, the stick will come out.

The city will start issuing $30-to-$200 tickets against the Chicago owners of as many as 460,000 unlicensed dogs who have been thumbing their noses at the city’s mandatory dog license for decades without consequence.

City Clerk Susana Mendoza said Friday the joint crackdown by her office and the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control will be largely “complaint-driven”—but not entirely.

“Maybe some stings at dog parks or at beaches — places, frankly, where we have high traffic of dogs and we’ll be able to make the best use of limited staff.

“We may also be looking at increasing the cost of a ticket for non-compliance,” she said.

Mendoza said she would also support the idea of issuing warning notices before the bite of real tickets.

“Even with all of the publicity, it still may not be common knowledge that you need to register your dog,” she said.

“If people look to be responsible dog owners and we can give them a warning ticket, it lets the person know, ‘You need to be doing this. We’re gonna cut you a break this one time.’ But now I have that constituent’s information. We can follow up within our own system. And if, within 30 days, they’re still not in compliance, then we issue them a citation.”

Last year, Animal Care and Control issued 500 tickets to the owners of unlicensed dogs. More than 200 tickets have been issued so far this year.

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 buy 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.

Eve Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Animal Care and Control, said the department would “continue to work with the clerk’s office and other agencies to educate and enforce” the licensing requirement.

But, she said, “It’s not all about enforcement. Dog licensing goes hand-in-hand with pet welfare. To register your dog with the city, the dog needs to be current with the rabies vaccination. This, within itself, promotes health. Also, a properly displayed tag can help us re-unite you with your pet in case your pet gets lost.”

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