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Lotsa bark, little bite: Chicago crackdown on unlicensed dogs fizzles out

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Was all that talk about a crackdown on unlicensed dogs in the Windy City just bluster?

Chicago’s much publicized threat to conduct sweeps at dogs parks and beaches, track down scofflaws and issue tickets carrying fines of up to $200 — all in effort to get more of the estimated 653,000 canines living there registered — never really got rolling.

City Clerk Susana Mendoza said Tuesday that, despite publicity, free rabies clinics, contests and other citywide events aimed at encouraging dog registrations, licenses  rose only from about 30,000 to 40,000 this year.

Mendoza , who testified this week at City Council budget hearings, said her office followed through on creating incentives for dog owners to get licenses, but the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control “dropped the ball” when it came to the enforcement side of the campaign.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that was likely  “either because it is inundated and understaffed or because Mayor Rahm Emanuel changed executive directors just when a ticket blitz was supposed to begin with stings at dog parks and beaches.”

For years, dog owners who failed to purchase dog licenses were all but ignored by the city.

That changed in 2005, when software was put in place allowing a county list of dogs who had received rabies shot to be compared to a much shorter list of licensed dogs in the city.

Warning letters were mailed to those whose names appeared on the county’s list, but not the city’s.

Those produced only a small surge in registrations. Two years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel endorsed the planned crackdown — with fines for violators — but that produced only another small surge, and the stiffer enforcement that was promised never took place.

Licenses are $5-a-year for spayed and neutered dogs, $50 for those that are not, and $2.50 for dog owners who are senior citizens. Fines for unregistered dogs run from $30 to $200. (You can learn more about registering your dog in Chicago here.)

Mendoza estimated Chicago’s dog population at more that 500,000 but others say it exceeds 653,000.

Despite the “tremendous job” her department did, Mendoza said, the crackdown “was really predicated on a strong enforcement effort, which we’re not responsible for . . . I have not seen a crackdown that I would feel comfortable with in terms of really getting people to license their dogs. I’m very disappointed in it.”