Dog contest not solution

By Editorial Board

Chicago is going to the dogs. In order to raise more awareness about this year’s supposed crackdown on dog registration laws, City Clerk Susana Mendoza announced Chicago’s first “Dog of Distinction” contest.

Dog owners who register their dogs from now until the end of March will be entered into the contest. Five semifinalists will be drawn at random to compete for the main prize, which includes a custom-designed dog tag, a weekend stay at the Palmer House Hilton, a photo shoot at Urban Out Sitters and a story in Chicago Tails magazine. The  winner will be named the city’s first “Dog of Distinction.” The contest comes in the wake of a new law that will begin fining dog owners of unregistered pets. Mendoza hopes the contest will spur dog owners to register in hopes of competing in

the contest.

A contest offering prizes just isn’t enough incentive for people to start registering dogs, especially because enforcement is expected to be “complaint-driven,” according to Mendoza. Chicago’s dog registration laws have been the butt of jokes for years. Out of nearly half a million dogs in Chicago, only 30,000 of them are registered with the city.

Dog registration doesn’t offer owners any real benefits and can end up costing them more money. Non-neutered dogs have a registration fee of $50, and to have a dog spayed or neutered is expensive in itself. Owners who register neutered dogs pay a grossly decreased amount of $5 and senior citizens pay only $2.50.

However, if an owner’s dog is lost and the city happens to find it, registration will help the city return the dog to its owner. Registration also helps ensure that registered dogs receive rabies vaccinations. But only five dogs will be chosen to compete out of 500,000 and, frankly, the city could offer much more useful incentives to dog owners, such as a free spay and neuter for a limited time or a free rabies vaccination. Ads at Chicago Transit authority stops could also spread awareness in a more effective way.

In the meantime, the city should figure out a better way to enforce the new law. Complaint-driven laws aren’t going to  harsher enforcement and haven’t shown much success in the past. Most dog owners aren’t going to question other dog owners about their registration. One method of enforcement that wouldn’t pit dog owners against each other is requiring registered dogs to wear a specific colored collar or tag when in public.

The city is trying to think outside of the box to enforce laws, and that is commendable. But certainly there are better ways than having a doggie pageant.