Santa Barbara County Animal Services launched its second annual dog registration campaign Tuesday, asking local pet owners to obtain licenses for their canine companions.

Santa Barbara County code requires that all dogs over four months old be licensed. Michele Mickiewicz, deputy director of the Public Health Dept., said by registering more animals, Animal Services hopes to encourage more people to spay and neuter their pets and to get them the proper vaccinations.

“A lot of people may not realize the risks involved with having pets,” Mickiewicz said. “We want to make people aware by having their pets licensed.”

The program will begin with a two-week amnesty period during which owners can obtain licenses for their dogs at any county animal shelter without having to pay a penalty fee. During the remainder of the three-month program, animal control officers will conduct a door-to-door campaign throughout Santa Barbara County to register as many pets as possible. Owners may be subject to fines and back licensing fees if they do not register their dogs by the end of the first two weeks.

Jan Glick, Animal Services director for the county, said rabies in particular has become an issue among animals in Santa Barbara County.

“We have rabies in Santa Barbara County in wild animals and also in a domestic cat in 2001,” Glick said. “We want to protect the public and the animals because this is definitely a concern.”

Licensed dogs are also more likely to be returned to their owners if they are lost, decreasing the number of unclaimed pets in animal shelters, Mickiewicz said.

“One thing we are trying to do is minimize the number of animals that have to be euthanized in the animal shelters,” Mickiewicz said.

Dog owners can register their pets at any of the three animal shelters in the county, with locations in Goleta, Lompoc and Santa Maria. Owners should come prepared with proof of current rabies vaccination and sterilization. Dog licenses cost $15 for those animals that have already been spayed or neutered, and $35 for those that have not.

Glick said the proceeds from the program will go directly to Animal Services’ rabies control program and Santa Barbara County animal shelters. She said the program was very effective in its first year and officials are hoping for similar results this year.

“The program has been successful in the past, and I think it will be as successful this year,” Glick said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”