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You may have to 'chip' your pet

January 22nd, 2004, 02:00 PM
You may have to 'chip' your pet
By Rob Olmstead Daily Herald Staff Writer

Every pet cat, dog and ferret in Cook County would have to be implanted with an identifying microchip under a proposal discussed Wednesday by a Cook County Board panel.

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Commissioner Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park, would mean that some 3 million pets would have to have the implants. Other pets, like birds and reptiles, would not be covered by the law.

Owners who did not comply would face fines of $20 per day, but it's doubtful that the county is in any position to enforce the ordinance, considering one study showed only a 25 percent compliance rate with the county's existing ordinance requiring rabies vaccinations.

The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice, can be implanted with a syringe into the folds of skin on a pet's neck scruff and allows lost pets to be readily identified and reunited with their owners, said Dan Parmer, administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control.

It also would help to identify and hold responsible pet owners in vicious dog attacks.

The average vet charges around $35 to $40 to implant a chip, Parmer said. However, if the ordinance is enacted, the county would hold clinics, either on its own or in conjunction with private vets, where owners could have the procedure done for $15.

No action was taken Wednesday by the county's public health subcommittee because commissioners wanted more information on the plan.

But the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sent the board a letter backing the plan.

"In Calgary, Canada, animal control wardens carry microchip scanners in their trucks and take the wayward animal back home, writing a ticket that the owner must pay," wrote Ledy VanKavage, director of legislative services for the ASPCA.

"I understand people have concerns, and rightly so," said Parmer in talking to the subcommittee.

However, contrary to urban myth, the chips do not allow anyone to track your pet, he said. The chip is a transponder, not a transmitter, and works only when a scanner is placed within a few inches of it.

"It does not track anybody," he said.

Commissioner Carl Hansen, a Mount Prospect Republican, said he's interested in hearing more about the proposal, primarily because Parmer is a reliable expert with few peers, he said.

Among the questions commissioners have is whether private vets who become aware of pets who aren't chipped would have to report that to the county. They're supposed to do that now with rabies shots, but most don't, Parmer said.

Hansen said he also wants the county to deal with the issue of enforcing rabies vaccinations, because Parmer and other experts have said that rabies in raccoons is spreading west from the Appalachians and will be in Illinois soon.

The subcommittee did not set a date for taking up the proposal but hopes to do so by March, Silvestri said.