Fines bringing pet owners to heel

In days before penalties quadruple, licenses go out four times as fast as last year

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The county’s plan to get people to license their pets by quadrupling fines appears to be working, said Paul Scarpelli, the county’s animal control manager.

Fines for unlicensed dogs and cats increase July 1.


Pet licensing

What: There’s no charge to license assistance dogs, and residents ages 65 and older receive a 50 percent senior discount for one spayed or neutered cat and one spayed or neutered dog. Otherwise, annual licenses for fertile dogs are $40; fertile cats are $20. Spayed or neutered dogs are $16; fixed cats are $10.

What’s new: On July 1, the fine for an unlicensed pet quadruples from $25 to $100. The fine will drop to $50 if the owner buys a license within 10 business days.

For more information: Call 360-397-2488 or visit http://www.clark.wa.gov/pets.

Licensing activity is up 300 percent over this time last year, Scarpelli said.

“We are really inundated, which is a great thing,” he said.

The fine for having an unlicensed dog or cat in unincorporated Clark County and the cities of Vancouver and Yacolt will increase from $25 to $100 per animal.

Currently, the fine is waived for people who buy a license after getting caught. Under the new law, the fine will be cut in half for people who get a pet license within 10 days.

And pet owners who ignore the ticket? A second fine will cost $200, a third will cost $400, and failure to pay the fine could result in a lien against the owner’s property.

The cost to license a pet will not increase.

The revenue goes for Clark County Animal Control, which responds to calls in unincorporated Clark County including Hazel Dell, Salmon Creek and Felida.

The county’s animal control officers also provide service in Yacolt and within Vancouver city limits; other cities do their own animal control and license dogs.

The county’s costs add up, whether it’s hiring coyote trappers or paying emergency veterinarian bills.

“I spent $8,000 on coyotes last year, and guess what, dog and cat licenses pay for that,” Scarpelli said.

He said coyotes in particular like to hang out along Cougar Creek in Hazel Dell, and the office gets calls from people complaining that coyotes are eating their chickens and scaring their children.

Taxpayers pick up balance

At a work session this year, county commissioners seemed surprised to find out taxpayers are footing emergency veterinarian bills (a total of $14,400 last year) and shelter costs ($156,499 last year) for pet owners who abuse or abandon their animals.

Commissioners budgeted $1.7 million for two years for animal control.

Since licensing fees don’t cover the cost of the program, the commissioners have to use money from the general fund; they hope to avoid dipping into that fund by getting more people to license their pets.

Approximately 19,000 dogs and 6,000 cats are licensed in the county. Based on national statistics on pet ownership, that means less than 20 percent of dogs and 5 percent of cats are licensed.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.