CHICAGO — Even on the North Side, where there are far more registered dogs than the South or West Sides, few Chicagoans tend to take the steps to tell the city they own a dog, data show.
As of last August, the city had 38,478 licenses out of 610,600 dogs estimated to live in the city, based on a formula by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Though the city clerk's office estimates the total population to be closer to 400,000, that still means only a fraction of dog owners in the city have paid the standard $5 per year for a sterilized dog — or $50 for an unsterilized one — to get their dog registered.
"The city is giving us trouble as it is with fines and fees and such," said West Pullman resident Marsharn Pierce, who was buying food for Sampson, his 6-month-old cane corso, at a Morgan Park Petco. "What's the point of getting a dog license?"
ZIP codes 60657 (Lakeview) and 60614 (Lincoln Park) have the most registered dogs in the city at 2,050 and 2,048, respectively.
But only about 9 percent of Lakeview dogs and 10 percent of Lincoln Park dogs are registered, based on the veterinary medical asssociation's formula.
On the other end of the spectrum, the three ZIP codes with the fewest registered dogs — 60603, 60604 and 60602 — are in the business-centric Loop. Combined, the three ZIP codes have 76 dogs registered.
The 60621 ZIP code, which covers Englewood, has only 48 dogs registered, less than 1 percent of its estimated population.
Other South and West Side neighborhoods aren't that much higher.
The city made a two-year push to get dogs registered in the city, which increased the number of dog tags by about 11,000 between 2011 and 2013.
There's some debate among city officials about what they can do to increase registration numbers.
"Participation is encouraged, but the city doesn't have the resources to do much more than encourage participation," said Patrick Corcoran, the city clerk's spokesman. "To turn it from a nice public service program to something else would require enforcement."
Corcoran calls city dog registration a service that not only provides "peace of mind" to owners of other dogs they might come across at day cares or parks, but has proven helpful in reuniting lost dogs with dozens of their owners.
While the city clerk's office said that the city has few avenues for enforcement, Animal Care and Control spokesman Brad Powers said dog licensing is one of the central things inspectors look for when attending to the nearly 60,000 phone calls the department handles annually.
Powers said his department has limited resources and usually prioritizes complaints such as dog attacks, dog fighting and similar public safety issues. But on each inspection, dog license checks are done.
"It's one of the first things we are going to check for," Powers said.
In 2013, the department issued 720 tickets to people who lacked proper city dog licenses, a 79 percent increase from 2011. Those tickets carry fines up to $200.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who has pushed for a stricter city ordinance on the matter, says overhauling licensing could improve public safety and health.
"By licensing the puppies, we know who the owner is," Fioretti said. "We can make sure that we have a better, healthier environment for all people."
Separate from the city's licensing, the Chicago Park District requires dog owners to get tags from veterinarians before their pets can use one of the parks' "dog-friendly areas."
There are 22 such places in the city, the southernmost being in the South Loop's Coliseum Park, 1466 S. Wabash Ave., making such tagging a North Side phenomenon.
Laura Grimes, a Mayfair resident who tries to take her 3-year-old standard poodle Tahoe to the Puptown Dog Park in Uptown several times a week, has registered her dog.
"The reason to do it is to prove dogs have all their shots," Grimes said.
But she said she understands why more people don't register their dogs.
"On the North Side, it's rare to see a stray dog, and, if we do, we try to find its owner," Grimes said. "It's rare to be around an owner whose dog hasn't received shots. You can throw a rock and hit a vet in this part of town."
That's different on the South Side, including Pierce's 60628 ZIP code, where just 375 dogs, or about 2.6 percent of the total dog population, are licensed.
"It is tougher to own a dog on the South Side when you see other parts of the city with more services," Pierce said. "There's no benefit to registering your dog here."