City Council members like the idea of requiring Lawton pet owners to microchip their dogs and cats.
The council indicated approval for the city staff proposal Tuesday. Animal Welfare Superintendent Roy Rodrick outlined the advances of a requirement that he said numerous municipalities across the country already have imposed on their pet owners. (No state has taken that step yet, according to the American Kennel Club). All the council did Tuesday was indicate support; city staff will craft the ordinance that will be brought back to the council for a vote.
Rodrick said the simplest argument for the requirement is lessening the number of animals in the city animal shelter, which in turn will lessen operating costs and the number of animals that must be euthanized every year.
Rodrick said about 3 percent of the animals brought into the city shelter have microchips, and that is reflected by the low number of animals that are successfully returned to owners. In 2022, the shelter picked up 2,607 dogs and and 1,104 cats, returning just 445 dogs and 19 cats to their owners. National statistics show that microchipping a pet greatly increases its chance of safe return, he said, adding San Antonio, Texas, reported its return rate increased by 20 percent two years in a row with the requirement.
Microchipped pets also spend less time in animal shelters because their owners are more quickly identified, meaning a savings in food (less time means less food) and for staff time spent on those surplus animals. Reducing the population also means fewer animals are euthanized to make room for new animals, Rodrick said.
The concept of microchipping animals in the shelter isn’t new. Rodrick said dogs and cats adopted from the city shelter already are microchipped as part of an overall program that also sterilizes the animals and gives them rabies vaccines.
“My recommendation is to do it for those impounded animals,” he said, adding the city charges $17.25 per animal for the service.
The cost to the City of Lawton for that microchip is $8, and “about five seconds” of time to insert the microchip in the animal’s neck, between the shoulder blades. Registering the chip means owners can be quickly identified and contacted when the microchip is scanned.
Rodrick said the staff’s recommendation is to formally impose the ordinance beginning Jan. 1, 2024, with city pet owners warned before then the requirement would be beginning. Acting City Manager John Ratliff said the new code provision would be enforced the same way the city’s existing requirement for pet licensing is: when animals are impounded by the city shelter, or if animal welfare officers otherwise have a need to contact an owner about a pet.
“We’re not going to each and every house,” Ratliff said, adding that as city staff finds non-compliant animals, they will act. “We cite them as it comes to our attention.”
Council members said the strictest implementation would be for those with dogs and cats who come through the city’s animal shelter. Several also asked about city-sponsored clinics to help pet owners by offering microchipping services at a rate now charged for animals adopted from the shelter.
Rodrick said doing a clinic at first would be a mistake, explaining he expects the staff would be overwhelmed by the sheer number of owners who would come to such a clinic.
“A lot of people would come down,” Rodrick said.
Council members also were concerned about how the provision would apply to the towns of Grandfield, Walters and Apache, which have agreements with the City of Lawton to take animals impounded in their communities.
“We require microchips to be part of the agreement with other towns,” said Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren, adding that otherwise, such towns would have to pay more for their impounded animals to be microchipped.