June 19, 2003 -- Higher taxes, increased fines, a blizzard of tickets - and now there's even a reason for New York dog owners to growl.


With an estimated 900,000 unlicensed pooches in the city, the Health Department is gearing up to try to get more dog owners to tag their four-legged friends - at an annual charge of $8.50 to $11.50, sources told The Post.


And those who don't get licenses may have a greater chance of being ticketed, the sources said.


While there is no official number, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates there are about 1 million dogs in the city. But only 97,595 dogs were licensed last year, according to the Health Department.


"It's important to license your dog, not only in case, God forbid, you should lose your dog, but it will also help the Center for Animal Care and Control do its job at a higher level," said ASPCA spokeswoman Lisa Weisberg.


The Health Department runs the CACC, the city's animal shelter.


Health Department spokeswoman Sandra Mullin would not provide details about the upcoming new licensing initiative - likely to be unveiled next week - but said the department is committed to licensing more dogs.



"We would certainly like to see more responsible dog ownership in the city including licensing, spaying-neutering and vaccinating dogs against rabies," she said.


The city loses out on an estimated annual $7 million to $10 million in uncollected license fees. That means the center could more than double its $6 million budget if it enforced dog-licensing laws, Weinberg said.


The problem presents a Catch-22, she noted. "It's hard to enforce the law with no money, but you can't raise the money without enforcing the law," Weisberg said.