Animal-control efforts starting to pay in Fort Worth

FORT WORTH -- David Morcha and his family drove from far north Fort Worth to the Chuck Silcox Animal Care and Control Center on the city's southeast side last week to get Titus, a 100-pound Great Dane puppy, registered and to have an ID microchip inserted.

"He's a big baby," he said. "I want to make sure if he gets out, he'll come back."

In August, the Fort Worth City Council adopted a new, tougher animal-control ordinance that makes it more expensive for people to keep dogs that aren't spayed or neutered. If the pets aren't altered, owners have to pay $50 for a special permit or attend a class. If an "intact" pet is picked up, it's a $150 fee to get the pet back.

But if an owner has the animal microchipped, the cost of the license is lower. The price of a dog and cat license rose from $7 to $12 annually for a pet with an identification chip, $36 per year for animals without the chips. But people who get the chip implanted, as the Morchas did, can get a three-year license for the same price as a one-year license.

"No one does [microchipping] for this price," Morcha said. "It's a really good service."

Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth's director of code compliance, said that although the city has been enforcing the ordinance for less than a year, things seem to be moving along well.

"The compliance rate is going up, and noncompliance is going down," Bennett said.

This is important for Bennett, who says it is difficult for a city the size of Fort Worth to accommodate stray dogs at a shelter that can house only 350 animals. Fort Worth picks up more than 20,000 animals a year, and at least 60 percent of them are euthanized.

Bennett wants to change that, he said.

Senior Animal Control Officer Joe Riney said his field officers are seeing fewer strays, and he credits that directly to the new ordinance. Not only does the ordinance impose the fees, it is also stricter -- for example, it includes specific rules on enclosures for pets. And because of the ordinance, the city is offering affordable services and on-site spay and neuter clinics, so pet owners are more likely to remain compliant, he said.The ordinance also created educational programs for pet owners.

In April, the city, in partnership with PetSmart Charities, will open an adoption center in southwest Fort Worth at "no cost to the city," he said. The center will be run by Fort Worth's Animal Care and Control staff during store hours.

The reduction in the number of stray dogs in her southwest Fort Worth neighborhood has not gone unnoticed by Nancy Jones. She and her dog were attacked last July on their nightly walk, not far from her home on Wonder Drive in Wedgwood.

She was severely bitten on her leg and ankle and is slowly recovering from a compound fracture of the wrist, which was surgically repaired with pins. Jones said her shoulder is still sore after months of physical therapy.

"I still can't make a fist," said Jones, 56, adding that her arm isn't quite the same.

Neither is Max, her 14-pound mixed breed, who fought off the two dogs that were much larger than him and escaped with a few knots on his neck and bloody ears. Jones said he likely saved her from injuries that could have been much worse.

The neighbors were "all on board for the new ordinance," she said. "There are fewer strays in the neighborhood."

ELIZABETH ZAVALA, 817-390-7418