Members of Citizens for Ear Tatooing Identification (CETI) protest before Saturday’s final information session about a new animal control ordinance at San Marcos City Hall. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
The emotionally charged matter of mandatory microchip registration for pet dogs and cats in San Marcos reached another boiling point Saturday afternoon at City Hall, where city staff gave its last of three information sessions about a new animal control ordinance.
Outside City Hall, a group calling itself “Citizens for Ear Tatooing Identification” (CETI) protested before the meeting.
Inside City Hall, CETI members and others pelted city staff with numerous complaints in the form of questions, touching on such worries as the new ordinance’s enforceability, over-reaching government, the risk of cancer from microchipping, religious objections, and the city’s dismissal of tatooing as an alternative.
City staff volleyed back with its conviction that microchipping is the most effective way to ensure that lost animals are returned to their owners and are thereby spared the risk of humane termination in the animal shelter.
On an afternoon that didn’t pass without the occasional dramatic twist, the city staff stole the show when San Marcos Animal Shelter Supervisor Kara Montiel ran a scan on the arm of Animal Control Supervisor C.J. Cooley. The scanner beeped and flashed an identification number as many of the three dozen citizens on hand gasped. Cooley then revealed that she had herself microchipped three years ago.
“I received a $100 check from Allstate for not having cancer,” Cooley said.
Some in the audience responded that three years isn’t enough time to grow a cancer.
“This is an injection,” Assistant Director of Community Services Mark Brinkley said of microchipping. “It’s not a surgical procedure. Our people are well trained to do that. The risk (of tumors) associated with implanting a microchip is less than one percent.”
After one citizen cited a 2007 Washington Post article pointing to cancer risks for animals implanted with microchips, San Marcos Animal Services Manager Bert Stratemann questioned the veracity of that research. Furthermore, said Stratemann, only two of 10,000 animals microchipped worldwide have grown tumors, and neither of those has been conclusively linked to microchipping.
“The likelihood of death to a microchip is far less than the likelihood of death to euthanasia,” Stratemann said. Stratemann added that mandatory microchipping will reduce the unnecessary killing of animals by having “appropriate” and “reliable” tools in place for identification.
“We have had at least 20 animals in the last month returned to owners because of microchips,” Montiel said.
The city council passed the new animal control ordinance in December. The ordinance goes into effect on April 1.
As council debated the measure, regulations for tethering animals drew the most attention. Once the ordinance passed, however, the microchip registration requirement has inspired much labored debate in the city.
As one citizen put it Saturday afternoon, “I just want to have a choice on how to identify my dog.”
Stratemann said he has high-hopes for the microchipping program in San Marcos, taking his confidence from the results of a similar program in Albuquerque, NM.
“They’ve had euthanasia decrease, while drastically increasing returns,” he said.
Councilmembers John Thomaides and Chris Jones attended the meeting to take the city’s pulse on the matter. Jones said he had “no reaction” to the spectacle and was there just to listen to the “community’s concerns” and, as “one councilmember,” to identify the issues disturbing residents.
“It sounds to me like they want to have options,” Jones said. “But we need to realize that (mandatory microchipping) is just one part of the whole ordinance. This ordinance is geared to better the treatment of our animals.”
Among the more assertive citizens at Saturday’s gathering was Lisa Marie Coppoletta, a failed city council candidate in November who came back two weeks ago by announcing a new run for council and later helped organize CETI. Coppoletta argued that responsible pet owners shouldn’t be penalized because of individuals “unwilling” or “unable” to keep their pets.
Coppoletta said most animals at the shelter aren’t lost, but “dumped” there. She pointed towards the national economic crisis as one of the many factors behind pet owners relinquishing their animals, suggesting the legislation is inappropriate because it doesn’t address that issue.
“We’re not trying to solve all the problems in the world with our microchipping program,” Assistant Director for Community Services Mark Brinkley said. “We’re finding solutions to local issues.”
CETI members argued that ear tatooing is preferable to microchipping, though they said traditional tag registration is their “best case scenario.” However, city staff is unconvinced about tags or tatoos.
Stratemann has said that tags are too easy to lose. Saturday, Stratemann and Brinkley argued that tatooing is a painful process requiring that animals go under anaesthesia. Furthermore, Stratemann said, tatoos can fade, they can be altered by injury and there’s no standard for tatoo identification.
Only one veterinary doctor practices pet tattoos in San Marcos, according to Stratemann, and even then, it consists of only a symbol specifying that the pet has been spayed or neutered. He said tattoos are “not a reliable” form of identification, and they are not offered in San Marcos as a form of identification.
Among the biggest challenges of the microchip mandate is enforcement. Stratemann said the only successful type of enforcement will come from lost pets. Otherwise, he added, “nobody will be knocking at your door making sure your pet is microchipped.”
Said Stratemann, “The enforceability of the law is as much as we make it. We’re not in the business of harassing the public. We’re trying to protect our animals.”
Religion took place in the conversation, as well. Coppoletta asked if religious thinking in opposition to microchips will tap consideration as the city enforces the mandate. Brinkley said the city’s legal department has not yet come to an opinion
The city’s animal shelter advisory board has scheduled a public hearing on the ordinance for Feb. 11 at noon in the Grant Harris Jr. Building.Email | Print