More lost pets in the Waco area are finding their way home, thanks to a microchipping requirement, but the Waco Animal Shelter has room for improvement when it comes to owners reclaiming their pets, officials say.

The shelter’s reclaim rate currently sits at about 14.4%, members of Waco’s Animal Welfare Advisory Board learned last week. Board member Michelle Nemec said that’s not bad for a shelter that covers so much ground, but the board has been looking into ways to improve the reclaim rate for some time.

“We’ve been discussing a lot of topics and areas where we want to improve,” Nemec said. “We’re not done.”

Nemec said the shelter’s reclaim rate sat at a mere 8% in fiscal year 2013. That same year, Waco adopted an ordinance requiring residents to microchip their pets. She said after 2013, the rate steadily improved.

“The reclaim rate was jumping a couple of percentages every year,” Nemec said.

Nemec said that’s an improvement, but the reclaim rate has remained mostly steady for the last year. There are many reasons someone might not reclaim a pet, but she said reclaim fees are the largest hurdle for most people.

Reclaiming an animal is free for the first 24 hours. The cost of reclaiming an animal depends on whether or not they have a shot record, a microchip, proof of rabies vaccination or if they’re already spayed or neutered. Animals coming from outside of Waco may have additional fees. The fees stack up and sometimes exceed $200, officials said. Nemec said those fees should be re-evaluated.

“We feel like we have a lot of potential there,” Nemec said. “Other well-performing shelters are doing things to improve.”

Making sure citizens are aware of the shelter’s location and hours is also key. The shelter also posts photos of lost cats and dogs to a map pinpointing where each animal was picked up in the city. She said simplifying the reclaim process would likely improve the rate as well. She cited the Austin Animal Center’s 21% reclaim rate as a tangible goal for Waco to try to meet.

“I think that’s a decent target for now,” Nemec said.

Animal Shelter Director Danielle Tate said pet owners have 72 hours to reclaim a pet once they’ve been brought to the shelter. After that window, the city goes from being an animal’s “custodian” to being its “owner.”

“If you only have three days to come up with a couple hundred dollars, then some people just can’t do it,” Tate said.

Humane Society of Central Texas Director Don Bland said last year he received a grant through Petsmart that allows him to help people pay reclaim fees, whether that means giving them money or simply lending it to them.

“For a long time, if they couldn’t reclaim them, that was just the way it was,” Bland said.

Some people pay Bland back, extending the life of the grant. Others come back as shelter volunteers.

“I saw the need,” Bland said. “People really wanted their animals, but they just physically could not afford it.”

Recommended for you