Thursday, March 5, 2009

Council takes chip from ordinance

Photos by Andy Sevilla.

Council takes chip from ordinance

Associate Editor

Months of local opposition to mandatory microchip registration for pet dogs and cats resulted Tuesday night in the San Marcos City Council taking the first step towards rescinding the requirement.

The council directed city staff to prepare changes to the ordinance allowing for voluntary microchipping and eliminating the mandate.

As the council meeting began inside City Hall, about 300 protesters from all over Texas assembled outside in a less orderly fashion, holding signs and chanting in unison with phrases such as, “Say no to microchips” and, “My pet, my choice.”

The city council passed a new animal control ordinance in December providing the microchip requirement on the recommendation of the city’s animal shelter advisory board, which argued that microchipping would make it easier to return lost pets to their owners and reducing destruction of pets in the animal shelter.

However, San Marcos residents have complained for the last two months about the requirement. The issue has taken on momentum statewide and nationally, as well.

“I feel this is a blessing,” said San Marcos city council candidate Lisa Marie Coppoletta, who has been instrumental in mobilizing local opposition to the mandate. “I think it’s a great example of San Marcos citizens involved in something near and dear to their heart. Our critters are part of our family.”

Among those in the crowd was Dr. Katherine Albrecht, a syndicated national radio host from New Hampshire who presented the council with her research on microchips.

“I’ve been very impressed by the response of Mayor (Susan) Narvaiz,” Albrecht said outside City Hall Tuesday night. “She and I met this afternoon and she told me she was personally in favor of doing away with the mandate and making microchipping voluntary.”

Albrecht said microchipping has moved from being only a privacy issue to one in which health is a major factor. She said companies promoting microchips often neglect to share with consumers full details of the risks associated with implants.

“This is part of a national issue many people are concerned with,” Coppoletta said.

Councilmember Chris Jones said it must be understood why the city approached a new animal control ordinance. He said that ultimately the legislation was for the “better treatment” and protection of animals. Jones said the intent is for the San Marcos Animal Shelter to become a “no-kill shelter.”

Said Jones, “The overall goal of killing less animals is something I was interested in.”

The Animal Shelter Advisory Board will take up the matter again in efforts to recommend voluntary microchipping. The board also would consider other changes to the ordinance.

For example, rescue groups would be exempt from the ban on selling or giving away animals on public or private property. The board also will look into loosening the total number of chickens residents can have on their properties.

The advisory board will conduct public hearings before coming back to the council with recommendations. Narvaiz urged staff to produce a “good” end result this go-around, after seeing the effects unpopular legislation can deliver.

“We have an incredible animal services team,” Councilman John Thomaides said. “I don’t think we realize the work that they do.”

Protestors, who at the time were engaged in a candlelight vigil outside of City Hall, were cheerful on hearing that the council opted for voluntary microchipping.

“I think it’s a blessing here in San Marcos that the policy makers are listening to the voices of the citizens,” Coppoletta said. “I hope we’ll continue to be mobilized with other issues in our community. There are a lot of concerns that we have.”

“People are really beginning to stand up for their civil liberties,” Albrecht said. ” … Community action, getting citizens involved and taking government back into their own hands can be very effective.”

Narvaiz said citizen involvement is always “appreciate[d]” and “welcome[d],” adding that concerns raised during an ordinance’s first reading provide the council with more information on community views before final decisions are rendered on second readings.

Council members hope to address the proposed adjustments to the new ordinance at their meeting on March 31, which happens to fall one day before the legislation takes effect on April 1.