Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich is expected to sign into law a controversial dangerous-dog bill recently passed by the state legislature, despite opposition from dog and cat breeders and fanciers who say some portions of the bill may hurt responsible pet owners.
The bill, which is an amendment to the state's current animal control laws, calls for tougher penalties for owners of vicious dogs and requires dangerous animals to be spayed or neutered. The bill also gives counties the authority to require microchips for all dogs and cats and to increase registration requirements for dog and cat owners, breeders, and small rescue groups.
The bill was introduced after two vicious attacks by pit bull-type dogs in a Chicago forest preserve left one woman dead and another seriously injured. The primary sponsors of the bill were state Rep. Angelo Saviano and state Sen. Don Harmon. Several government agencies and animal welfare organizations, including the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, the Illinois State VMA, and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, backed the bill.
For more information about the bill, visit www.avma.org/onlnews/JAVMA/may03/030501e.asp.
Some organizations representing dog and cat breeders and fanciers say that, while they support a crackdown on owners of dangerous dogs, they oppose mandatory microchipping and increased registration requirements because they say these requirements would unfairly burden responsible owners.
DiAnn Plaza, the president and chair of the Illinois Dog Clubs and Breeders Association—a group that represents the legislative interests of dog clubs and breeders—explained, "We realize they have to do something about negligent owners."
Plaza said, however, that mandatory microchipping would create unnecessary expenses and paperwork for pet owners and county animal control agencies.
"The responsible people are already (microchipping their pets)," Plaza said, adding that some owners may avoid taking their pets to the veterinarian if they have privacy concerns about microchipping their pet.
Linda Pollack Mercer, M.D., a former cat breeder whose is active in cat rescue efforts, agreed with Plaza and added that the bill would effect only owned cats and not have any effect on feral cats.
"(Owners) who are responsible are already microchipping and keeping their cats indoors," Dr. Mercer said. "(Responsible owners) would be paying for other peoples irresponsibility."
Proponents of the bill say the microchipping component will not only help officials identify the owners of dangerous animals, but also help reunite lost pets and owners, and reduce animal control costs.
"It's for the benefit of pets and people," said Ledy Vankavage, the Midwest government affairs director for the ASPCA. Vankavage said the groups that worked to refine the bill tried to address concerns about cost and microchip readability.
To aid owners who can't afford the full price of microchipping their pet, the bill requires counties that mandate microchipping to provide low-cost microchipping clinics once a month. Also, the bill requires microchips that are readable by universal readers, and requires shelters to scan animals immediately upon arrival.
Dr. Daniel Parmer, the director of Cook County Animal Control, said he supported the bill, though he said he did not know if Cook County Board would use it's new authority to mandate microchipping.
"We're in favor of (microchipping all dogs and cats) because it's good for the animals, animal owners, and animal control," Dr. Parmer said.
Dr. Parmer said it's necessary for the state to toughen its dangerous animal laws, and would like to see more animals—including primates over 12 pounds and dangerous snakes—covered under dangerous animal laws in the future.
The dog and cat breed groups also oppose portions of the law that would require small animal-rescue groups to register with the state and pay a registration fee, dog and cat breeders to pay to register each litter, cat owners to pay to register their cats.
Plaza said the bill would not stop irresponsible owners, who already flout vaccination and registration requirements.
"It's going to be too much of a burden for good people," Plaza said.
Vankavage said the intent of the bill is not to burden owners but to help raise funds for animal control facilities and shelters. "Animal control agencies need money; we're trying to get them money," Vankavage said, explaining that requiring registration fees for cats will create more revenue for agencies that are dealing with both dogs and cats. "In Illinois, dog owners are footing the whole bill."
The cat registration requirement may not have much effect on some counties, such as Cook County where cats are already registered through their rabies vaccinations.