2006-06-15 / Front Page

Animal control Canines must wear microchip

By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved a measure that requires all dogs kept in unincorporated county areas to be spayed or neutered. Canines also must be implanted with an identifying microchip.

The law became effective June 3.

The Agoura Animal Shelter is participating in the county's free microchipping program, offering implantation of the chips that can be read with a hand-held scanner. The chip's code number is stored in a database that includes the owner's contact information.

The microchip clinic, with lifetime registration, is free for pets of residents who live in the unincorporated areas of L.A. County.

The new law, one of the first of its kind in the nation, will affect all dogs over the age of 4 months, according to Marcia Mayeda, director of the L.A. County Department of Animal Care and Control, the agency that drafted the ordinance.

The regulation will help reduce the numbers of unwanted animals flooding into local shelters, Mayeda said.

"The microchip provision will provide reliable on-body identification for dogs, speeding their return to owners," she said.

In 2004 and 2005, the county department, the largest public animal control agency in the nation, impounded more than 40,000 dogs. More than 24,000 of those animals were unsterilized stray dogs. Many were found roaming the streets, behavior that raises safety concerns.

Almost 19,000 dogs had to be humanely euthanized because the agency could not locate their owners or was unable to place the pets in new homes. According to the agency, the goal is to reduce the number of dogs coming in to shelters so the animals don't have to be killed.

Like all public animal shelters in California, L.A. County shelters have been spaying and neutering all animals prior to placing them for adoption. The program has reduced the number of animals in the shelter system but it doesn't accomplish enough, Mayeda said.

Most pets don't come from shelters and aren't spayed or neutered. "That means we are constantly receiving a new flow of animals every day at every shelter," Mayeda said.

Certified service animals, dogs used by law enforcement agencies, and purebreds registered with recognized breed clubs are exempt from the new law. Canines that because of age or infirmity can't be spayed or neutered without suffering serious harm or death may also be exempted with written confirmation from a licensed veterinarian.

"Our intent is not punitive. We want to encourage compliance and everything in the ordinance was crafted with that in mind," Mayeda said.

The county will host clinics to offer free microchips and a lifetime registration to all dogs free of charge to their owners, thanks to a generous donation from the Found Animal Foundation, Brenda Sanchez, a spokesperson for the department, said. They can be obtained at any Los Angeles County animal shelter but call ahead to confirm microchip clinic hours.

Microchipping is a simple nonsurgical procedure. The chip, about the size of a grain of rice, is implanted with a needle.

To help fund low-cost spay and neuter surgeries, county officials adjusted the county's annual dog license rates upward from $15 to $20 for dogs that have been altered. The fee for dogs that haven't been spayed or neutered is $60 but applicants must qualify as exempt, said Sanchez.

Affordable spay and neuter services are also available at the Agoura Animal Shelter's clinic and the county offers a $50 voucher to seniors and low-income residents.

Vouchers may be used at some veterinarians' offices. Vets can also supply the microchips but fees will vary, Sanchez said.

The organization Actors and Others for Animals provides free spay and neuter services for pit bulls and Rottweilers. Call (818) 755-6045 for information or visit www.actorsandothers.com.

The new ordinance only applies to the county's unincorporated areas, which include more than 1 million residents and their pets. "We hope every city in the county, as well as cities outside the county, will adopt local ordinances based on our model," Mayeda said. "It's a major step toward ending the humane euthanization of animals in shelters and transforming the `No Kill' goal from dream to reality."

Fines and penalties

A 90-day grace period started last Saturday to allow dog owners to comply with the requirements. Afterwards, violators will be fined up to $250. If an owner fails to make corrections within 30 days of notification, a second violation will be a misdemeanor punishable either by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed six months or by a fine not to exceed $1,000, or by both.

Cats are not affected by the new microchip ordinance, but they must be licensed. The cost is $5 for a neutered cat and $10 for non-neutered felines.

Clinic hours are from 3 to 7 p.m. today, Thurs., June 8, and 3 to 7 p.m. Fri., June 9 at the Agoura shelter, 29525 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills. Call (818) 991-0071.

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