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Hundreds of Thousands of Dallas Pets Are Living in the City Illegally

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How many dogs and cats are there in Dallas? It's a hard, maybe impossible figure to nail down with any certainty, but extrapolating from the Humane Society's U.S. pet-ownership statistics, the number is just north of 600,000. The American Veterinary Medical Association's pet-ownership calculator gives a slightly smaller but comparable figure of 583,000. That's not counting the hundreds of thousands of stray dogs and cats the city estimates are prowling around.

The number of dogs and cats that are actually registered with the city, as required by law: about 53,000. The compliance rate is in the single digits.

"We know that there are a lot of unregistered animals out there," code compliance director Jimmy Martin told the City Council's Quality of Life Committee this morning, unveiling several proposed changes to the city's pet laws.

Animal control officers will move away from issuing criminal citations for animal violations, which require a suspect to be present to receive a ticket, in favor of civil citations, which allow for more aggressive enforcement. They also plan to ditch annual registration in favor of three-year registration, the same window rabies shots are good for.

With those measures in place, Martin said the goal is to increase the number of registered dogs and cats to a whopping 59,604.

That's not quite good enough for Councilman Dwaine Caraway, the city's most outspoken critic of stray dogs.

"Can we cut their water off?" Caraway, referring to the owners, wondered aloud. He also suggested finding a list of pet owners with unregistered animals and performing a citywide "warrant roundup"-style sweep. "We need some type of signal they need to bring the animal into compliance."

Dallas Animal Services director Catherine McManus sidestepped Caraway's proposals and instead endorsed a "multifaceted approach" focusing on public education. Many people think a rabies tag is all their pet needs and are unaware of the city's registration requirement.

Councilman Lee Kleinman offered the obvious suggestion: have people register their pets when they get them vaccinated.

The question raised by Councilman Rick Callahan is whether pet owners just hit with a sizable vet bill will be willing and able to pay a three-year registration fee of $21 for fixed dogs and cats and $90 for those still intact.

"I know several people that have three, four, five dogs and [multiple] cats," he said. Those people are likely to balk at a $500 registration bill.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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