City Council members like the idea of requiring Lawton pet owners to microchip their dogs and cats.
The council indicated approval of the city staff proposal Tuesday. Animal Welfare Superintendent Roy Rodrick outlined progress on a requirement that he said numerous municipalities across the country have already imposed on their pet owners. (No state has taken that step yet, according to the American Kennel Club.) All the council did on Tuesday was indicate its support; city staff will develop the ordinance which will be returned to council for a vote.
Rodrick said the simplest argument for the requirement is to reduce the number of animals at the city’s animal shelter, which in turn will reduce operating costs and the number of animals that must be euthanized each year.
Rodrick said about 3 percent of the animals brought into the city shelter are microchipped, and that’s reflected in the low number of animals that are successfully returned to their owners. In 2022, the shelter took in 2,607 dogs and 1,104 cats, returning just 445 dogs and 19 cats to their owners. National statistics show microchipping a pet greatly increases its chance of a safe return, he said, adding that 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 at animal shelters because their owners are more quickly identified, which means savings in food (less time means less food) and staff time spent with those surplus animals. Reducing the population also means fewer animals are culled to make room for new animals, Rodrick said.
The concept of microchipping animals at the shelter is not new. Rodrick said the dogs and cats adopted from the city shelter are already microchipped as part of an overall program that also sterilizes the animals and gives them rabies shots.
“My recommendation is to do it for those seized animals,” he said, adding that 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 into 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 enforce the ordinance beginning January 1, 2024, with city pet owners warned before the requirement begins. Acting City Manager John Ratliff said the new code provision would apply in the same way as the city’s existing requirement for a pet license: when the animals are seized by the city shelter, or if animal welfare officers have a need to communicate with an owner about a pet. .
“We’re not going to go to every single house,” Ratliff said, adding that when city staff find non-compliant animals, they will act. “We cite them as they come to our attention.”
Council members said the strictest implementation would be for those with dogs and cats that come through the city’s animal shelter. Several also asked about city-sponsored clinics to help pet owners by offering microchipping services at a fee now charged for animals adopted from the shelter.
Rodrick said that doing a clinic early on would be a mistake, explaining that he expects the staff to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of owners who would come to such a clinic.
“A lot of people would come,” Rodrick said.
Council members were also concerned about how the provision would apply to the cities of Grandfield, Walters and Apache, which have agreements with the city of Lawton to accept seized animals into their communities.
“We require microchips to be part of the agreement with other cities,” said Ward 8 Councilor Randy Warren, adding that otherwise those cities would have to pay more to have seized animals microchipped.