If your pet isn’t microchipped yet, you have until February 1 in Houston

Pet owners can be fined between $100 to $500 dollars if their pets are found without a microchip, but BARC says they understand pets get out and are not trying to get punitive.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
FILE: Starting Wednesday, February 1, 2023 Houston dog owners will have to micro-chip their pets.

Starting Wednesday, Houston dog and cat owners will be required by law to microchip their pets. Around this time last year, Houston City Council approved a city ordinance that pertained to the welfare of animals by adding the mandatory micro-chipping ordinance but allowed for a year-long grace period.

Cory Stottlemyer is the Director of Communications for BARC, the city of Houston's Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, says there are several factors for adding micro-chipping as a requirement, but the main one is BARC is focused on providing resources to the public to keep their pets home and a micro-chip is the easiest way to re-unite lost pets and their owners.

"The big thing we focus on in that area is if pets remain at home and not at the shelter that then frees up shelter space for us [BARC] to pick up strays and other animals that might need to be turned in. So ultimately, the core goal with this is to keep pets with their owners."

Microchipping is also one of the most reliable methods of identification for a lost pet. According to the American Kennel Club, 1 in 3 pets become lost at one point in their lives which is why a microchip for pets is the greatest benefit to make sure if your pet gets lost it will be returned home.

And for those who may be concerned the process could hurt their pet, Stottlemyer explains the microchip is about the size of a grain of rice that has a unique identification number linked to a database. When the microchip is scanned by the BARC shelter or a vet, it transmits the ID number. When an animal is lost and scanned for a microchip, "we have a wand that goes over where the pet chip is typically injected, and it will tell us where it is registered to, and we can contact the company. Then we get the owners information and reach out from there. "

But the pet must be first registered with the City of Houston which is why microchipping is now part of a three-step process to completing a pet registration with the city. According to the City of Houston Municipal Code, anyone who owns, keeps, possesses, or has control of a dog or cat four months of age or older must have his or her pet registered, vaccinated against rabies every year, and a registered microchip. The American Kennel Club also reports, "Pets with microchips are up to 20 times more likely to be reunited with their owners."

Regarding compliance to the yearlong grace period, Stottlemyer says some people might have been confused or had questions about the initial change, but Houston has been receptive and overall has already had decent amount of registration. Now he did caveat that with, "we [Houston] have like less than 5% compliance but the company we work with says we're one of the higher cities they work with in terms of compliance So, it doesn't sound like a lot but surprisingly, that's a high amount for typically what they see."

The biggest benefit to microchipping is lost pets can avoid going to a shelter completely if found.

"Ideally, if pets are microchipped and our enforcement officers come in contact with animals in the field that are lost from home, they're able to scan the microchip in the filed and find out where they live. They can return them home without ever having to bring them to the shelter."

Pet owners can be fined between $100 to $500 dollars if their pets are found without a microchip, but BARC says they understand pets get out and are not trying to get punitive.

"We understand pets get out. We know when there's celebrations like recently, we had the New Year. Pets get scared and act differently when they're under stressful circumstances. Sometimes they get out, it's no fault of the owner and if your pet is microchipped it's a great way to ensure your pet gets returned home."

With the new requirement going into effect this week, BARC will be offering free microchips for pets owned by City of Houston residents. Free microchips will be available from 8 – 10 a.m. at 3300 Carr St., while supplies last, the following dates Tuesday, January 31, Monday, February 6 and Tuesday, February 7.