Santa Cruz may become the first county in the state to require microchip identification for cats and dogs.

Melanie Sobel, general manager of the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS), is the author of the proposal. It has been challenged by a petition. Over 250 people have signed the petition demanding a public forum for the mandate.

In response to the petition,  SCCAS will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 21 at the Simpkins Family Swim Center to discuss the proposal.

Many signers cite the installation’s expense, penalties for not complying and an overreach of the law as reasons for concern.

“I don’t have [a microchip] for my dog. It should be a personal choice,” said local pet owner Maria Santillan. “Some people with bigger dogs might want them because they can jump fences and escape, but I don’t think they should be mandatory.”

The microchip itself is smaller than a grain of rice and is implanted underneath the skin, according to Found Animals Microchip Registry.

Costing anywhere from $10 to $75, the microchip contains a unique number linked  to the contact information on an online registry. The database enables shelters, veterinarians and other organizations to contact a pet owner if their pet is found.

Sabel says lost cats and dogs are often brought in to the shelter, where they sit for days before the owner begins looking for their pet.

“If pets came into the shelter with the microchip, we could immediately locate the owner. They could come the same day and take their cat out of the shelter,” Sobel said.

Faster pet retrieval is important because space is limited at many animal shelters including the SCCAS, which receives 6,000 lost animals a year. Twenty percent of these pets are euthanized due to lack of space.

“If we can get the animals out as quickly as a possible, that leaves space for the really needy animals, such as abused, mistreated or homeless animals,” Sobel said.

Project Purr co-founder Lynne Achterberg said mandatory microchips would increase euthanasia rates. Project Purr, a Santa Cruz nonprofit organization, spays and neuters pets and helps residents keep track of feral cats.

Mandatory microchips would increase this program’s costs and potentially  deter people from using Project Purr.

“If microchips were mandated, this would add $18,990 to our veterinary expenses,” Achterberg said. “If mandatory microchipping is passed, increased costs to use our program will be shifted to the public and will result in less people using the program.”

Project Purr’s popularity enabled them to spay and neuter 1,266 feral cats last year, Achterberg said.

Spaying and neutering feral cats keeps future generations out of the animal shelter and from being euthanized.

“Less spaying and neutering will not only increase breeding, but also increase animal complaint calls, euthanasia and trapping for surrender,” Achterberg said. “Enforcement will be elusive and further drain scarce animal shelter dollars and resources and will become a diversion from the business of saving lives.”

However, pet owner Melanie Sobel maintains that feral cats are often brought into the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter without  any type of  identification. Feral cats cannot be adopted out to the public, and the shelter is forced to euthanize a cat without a caretaker’s contact information.

Project Purr supports microchipping, provided that it is voluntary and the services become cheaper and more accessible for everyone.

“We can’t mandate human behavior,” Achterberg said. “Mandates don’t create more responsible pet owners.”