Now that’s beginning to change, thanks to a public outreach campaign by city clerk Jackie Beaudry and her staff. A flurry of fliers and banners at dog-friendly locations and events like the Halloween party at Olson Dog Park boosted license sales by 25 percent between July and December, compared to the same period in 2013.
Councilmember Jane Lumm explains that the effort grew out of a budget amendment she introduced to increase the city’s payments to the Humane Society of Huron Valley. The city had been paying HSHV $28,000 a year for animal control services—far less, Lumm says, than the nonprofit’s cost. The humane society took in an estimated 771 animals from the city in 2011, about 23 percent of all the dogs taken in from the county. “We were not paying for the services that were being provided,” Lumm says. “So it’s great that the city stepped up.”
The amendment increased this year’s payment to $136,000, which Lumm says “is not necessarily the city’s ‘fair share,’ but it’s a significant step in the right direction.” Most of the extra money came from a one-time funding source—money that, Lumm says, was originally intended “to assess the community’s preference for the placement and appearance of business signs.” But $31,000 was penciled in from additional dog-license sales.
Although owners of unlicensed dogs can be fined, Lumm says the initiative is focused more on raising public awareness. “We want this to be pet owner friendly,” she says. “It’s not going to be this aggressive enforcement program.” She points to the importance of rabies vaccination—evidence of vaccination is required to get a license—and refers to a license as a “ticket home” because it increases the chance that a lost pet will be reunited with its owner.
Beaudry says she has encountered many people who didn’t know they had to license their dogs. “That’s why we’re focusing on educating,” she says. To simplify licensing, the city now gives owners the option of one- two-, or three-year terms, so renewal aligns with the expiration of the pet’s rabies vaccination. “It forces someone who’s on the end of that vaccination to come back, so we know from a public health and safety standpoint that they did re-vaccinate,” Beaudry explains. Her office also is working on getting marketing materials into vets’ offices “to get the message out that, in addition to the rabies vaccination, you have to go that one step further and actually license your dog.”
The city also has lowered prices for spayed and neutered pets. A one-year license for an unaltered dog costs $12, but spayed and neutered animals are just $6. (As always, there’s no charge for service animals.) Beaudry says people have been “pleasantly surprised” by the new prices.
Beaudry’s office is also working on a partnership with HSHV, so that residents can license a pet at the same time it’s adopted; they should have that up and running by the end of the fiscal year in June. Longer term, the city also is developing an online application and renewal process.
Even after last year’s increase, fewer than 10 percent of the city’s dogs were licensed at the end of 2014. The next round of outreach will need to step up the pace if the city is to raise the cash it needs to cover its increased payment to HSHV. If sales fall short, Lumm says, the difference will be drawn from the general fund balance.
Still, Lumm says she is encouraged by the response to the city’s efforts so far. “Clearly we’re on the right trajectory,” she says. While 30 percent compliance is the goal for the first year of the initiative, she says, 50 percent “would be a great target to have” for the long term.
Why does the city require a license for dogs, but not cats? “I can understand the thought behind cat licensing, and we should probably talk about that down the road,” Lumm says. “But I think we should focus on getting the dog licensing program up and running and robust first.”