Houston City Council unanimously passed an animal code revision on Wednesday, for the first time since 2014. Some of these changes intend to solve animal overpopulation issues on the streets and in city shelters.
“For the most part, all of these changes were really supported by the animal welfare community, which is great,” said At-Large Councilmember Sallie Alcorn, who worked on the revisions.
Pet owners are already required to vaccinate their pets and license them with the city. But, they are now also required to microchip them, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The chips will replace the city’s license and rabies tags and make returning lost animals easier. Animal control officers can scan an animal’s microchip and skip processing them at the shelter. Meaning your pets can go right back home.
Shelter employees will help Houstonians adjust to these changes for one year before enforcing these new rules. During that time, officials will offer pet owners opportunities to install the devices, sometimes free of charge. The process will usually cost around $15 otherwise.
The city estimates it currently has a 4 percent compliance rate for licensing requirements. Officials hope this initiative will push that number up.
San Antonio adopted a similar microchipping ordinance in 2017 and saw a sharp increase in return-to-owner rates. They had a 20 percent return rate in October, while Houston saw a rate of 5.7 percent in 2020.
“Our return-to-owner rate is not very good at all because none of the dogs we’re picking up have identifiers on them,” said Jarrad Mears, division manager for animal enforcement at the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care. “This isn’t an immediate solution. This is a long-term thing. The more animals we get microchipped, the more this is going to help us get pets back to their owners.”
The five stores currently sourcing animals from “puppy mill” breeders will have one year to comply with the new provision. They will only be able to sell animals from humane organizations or shelters beyond that point.
City officials and animal rights advocates explained most reputable or legitimate breeders don’t sell to pet stores and won’t be affected by these changes.
Tama Lundquist, co-president of Houston PetSet, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness and suffering for animals, said it often is heartbreaking to watch the city and nonprofits attempt to address what she described as a “stray animal crisis” in Houston.
“Today, it seems we have momentum to stop the suffering and witness good things happening for our animals,” Lundquist said.