In Our View: Pet Licenses Crucial

Local officials use carrot-and-stick approach; fines will quadruple on July 1

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Well, that certainly got their attention. Using a carrot-and-stick approach, the Clark County Animal Protection and Control Advisory Board has managed to increase local pet licensing activity by 300 percent over last year. Kudos to the board for devising the strategy, to the county and affected cities for approving it and to Animal Control staff and workers for carrying it out.

The carrot is a form of amnesty. If you get caught with an unlicensed dog or cat in unincorporated Clark County and the cities of Vancouver and Yacolt, your $25 fine will be waived if you buy a license.

The stick comes in the rather imposing form of soaring fines. Starting July 1, the fine for violating pet licensing ordinances will quadruple from $25 to $100 per animal and, rather than having your fine waived if you obtain a pet license, it will be only be cut in half.

More sticks: A second fine will carry a $200 fine, a third will cost $400, and failure to pay the fine could result in a lien against your property.

Those are some pretty big sticks, but as Stephanie Rice reported in Sunday’s Columbian, the rush to license pets locally has been more than enough to justify the get-tough approach. Here’s some information to keep in mind as you review the crackdown and what it means to pet owners:

There will be no increase in the cost of licensing a dog or cat. In other words, if you comply, nothing has changed. The only increases are for those who violate the ordinance.

Animal control officers increased enforcement earlier this year when they noticed a high number of unlicensed pets at dog parks and elsewhere. National statistics have indicated licensing compliance among pet owners runs less than 20 percent for owners of dogs and 5 percent for owners of cats. (OK, people don’t actually own cats, do they? But they still should get them licensed).

This new approach makes good financial sense. County commissioners have budgeted $1.7 million for two years for animal control, and increasing revenue from pet-licensing violators reduces dipping into the county’s general fund. Emergency veterinarian bills totaled $14,400 last year and shelter costs were $156,499. In this economic crisis, extracting more money out of violators without affecting those who comply is a fair way to pay for cash-strapped programs. County officials also are working to control the local coyote population, which is causing problems in several urban neighborhoods, particularly the Cougar Creek area of Hazel Dell.

There are multiple other reasons the work of Animal Control is crucial in our community. Not the least of those reasons is public health. Maintaining pet license records helps the county control loose or vicious animals. Local officials can more easily deal with animal cruelty and nuisance complaints when more pets are licensed.

Pet licensing fees are reasonable: $40 for a fertile dog and $16 for an altered dog; $20 for a fertile cat and $10 for an altered cat.

The licenses are easy to obtain. There are four sites each in east county and the central area. Hazel Dell has two sites; so does west county. You can find those sites by visiting http://www.clark.wa.gov/commdev/animal and click on pet licensing.

In addition to protecting your dog’s or cat’s health, a license also enhances a pet’s security. If a pet gets separated from his owner, that tag is a quick ticket back to the comforts of home.

Don’t forget your best source of expert information on this subject. For all the right answers, talk to a veterinarian.