Mandatory Identification of Dogs and Cats

In recent years there has been an increased public awareness of something that shelters, humane societies, and animal protection advocates have known for years: There is an incalculable population of unwanted cats and dogs in America. Despite the heroic, front-line, efforts of shelters, humane societies, and animal protection advocates in caring for (and disposing of) many unwanted animals, the appalling statistic is that millions1 of them are euthanized every year. Year after year. Decade after decade. Countless millions more unwanted dogs and cats scratch out a feral existence awaiting premature deaths, or, too often, fates worse than death.

Although for decades society has wrestled with the surplus dog and cat problem, and recently municipal governments have begun to grapple with the situation, sadly, it remains clear that no overall solution has been found. Dog licensing does not affect how many canines one can possess, nor does it limit breeding, either in backyards or at puppy farms. Felines are not licensed at all. Currently, spaying and neutering is voluntary (see ISAR’s Model Mandatory Spay/Neuter Statute and its Model Adoption Sterilization Statute.) Dog and cat contraception is far from a reality, and even if feasible would remain largely, if not wholly, voluntary.

This means that society in general, and shelters, humane societies, and animal protection advocates in particular, face a hopelessly growing surplus dog and cat population. The prognosis is worsened because few people, even those in the animal rights/welfare field, understand one of the several major reasons for the surplus animal problem.

Dogs and cats that individuals want to keep and care for present no surplus problem—although they may cause a surplus problem if they are allowed to breed indiscriminately and their progeny then become unwanted. The latter are then added to the surplus population. If the progeny are dumped, and thus become feral instead of being taken to a shelter or humane society, their surplus status will compound exponentially. If these unwanted progeny live long enough to reproduce, their offspring become surplus—and so on down the years until the numbers become uncountable.

This fact suggests that a root of the surplus problem is not, as popularly supposed, the ease with which a dog or cat can be acquired, but rather the ease with which a dog or cat can be consequence-free disposed of, especially anonymously.

Acceptance of this proposition suggests a way to alleviate the surplus dog and cat problem. If ease of anonymous consequence-free disposal of unwanted dogs and cats is a major contributing factor to the surplus of these animals, it is exactly that—ease of anonymous consequence-free disposal—that must be dealt with. This is the key. If a wanted dog or cat is to become unwanted, there must be consequences for the identifiableanimal’s custodian. To do that, we repeat: The custodians of such animals must be identifiable.

Solve the problem of custodian identification, and a significant step is taken toward alleviating the surplus dog and cat problem. Once the appropriate authorities know who has disposed of a dog or cat by surrender or dumping, that person must pay a price.

Essentially, apart from killing an unwanted dog or cat, there are two ways to dispose of it: by surrender to a shelter or humane society, or by dumping it. If the dog or cat has been implanted with a microchip, the custodian can be identified and a penalty assessed if appropriate. ISAR’s Model Mandatory Identification of Dog and Cats Statute is aimed at the animal that has not been chipped.

ISAR proposes a simple solution: Mandatory permanent identification of dogs and cats, stringent penalties for non-identification, and (except in hardship cases) making it costly to dispose of a healthy but unwanted dog or cat by surrender or dumping.

Without providing here the details and specific language that would constitute a statute embodying this proposal, the essence of such a law would be as follows:

At a reasonable time after birth or rescue, companion dogs and cats would be required to have a permanent, easily detectable, identification number applied by a veterinarian by means of a microchip. Willfully failing to so identify one’s animal would be punishable by a civil fine. (Think of failing to register an automobile, or for selective service.)

The animal’s identification number and other relevant information would be recorded by the state and would constitute the dog or cat’s animal’s permanent license number.

Dogs and cats impounded by animal control authorities, or otherwise brought to shelters, would be examined for their identification number. Animals lacking a microchip would receive one prior to being adopted or returned to their custodians. Penalties would be provided for (a) custodians (not rescuers) whose animals lacked an identification number, and (b) custodians (not rescuers) surrendering animals whose animals possessed an identification number. The severity of penalties would depend on why the animal was impounded or otherwise brought to a shelter, why the animal lacked an identification number, and why the dog or cat was being surrendered.

Upon the transfer by sale, gift, or otherwise of a micro chipped dog or cat, it would be the transferor’s duty to inform the state registry of the name and address of the transferee. There would be a penalty for noncompliance.

The intent of such a law is obvious: to make it difficult and costly for the custodian or possessor of a companion dog or cat to dispose of the animal by surrendering it to a shelter or humane society or dumping it.

It must be recognized, especially by the custodians of companion dogs and cats, that they are not inanimate objects, like plastic toys, to be acquired capriciously and disposed of on a whim. It must be recognized that companion dogs and cats are members of living species with whom we share this planet, that they are sentient beings whom humans have domesticated and who depend on us entirely for their well-being and survival, and that they, like us, can acutely experience fear, pain, and death. In sum, companion dogs and cats are our responsibility and we must control their numbers in order to prevent their suffering. It is as simple as that.

To those who would complain that this proposal to deal with the surplus dog and cat problem unduly interferes with the custodians’ so-called “right” to do whatever they wish with their animals, ISAR reminds them that there are already plentiful anti-cruelty and other animal protection laws on the books of every state and nationally, and that animals, like defenseless children, need, and are entitled to, protection from abuse and exploitation.

To those who would complain that the proposal sounds too expensive, ISAR contends that it would actually save much of the hundreds of millions it now costs annually to exterminate millions of unwanted dogs and cats.

To those who would complain that the proposal cannot work, ISAR answers that it must work— for it is a moral outrage to visit the sins of irresponsible custodians on helpless, innocent, dogs and cats, by systematically and relentlessly exterminating them.


1Neither ISAR, nor any other organization in the United States, has available a reliable estimate for how many dogs and cats are euthanized annually by animal shelters in this country.