Last summer, King County's animal control program was a mess. Critics accused the program of dragging its feet in responding to cases of both animal cruelty and animal aggression, and the county was so strapped for funds to pay for its animal services that it was talking about getting out of the business altogether. Ultimately deciding that wasn't possible, the county looked for other ways to fund the program. And if you have a dog or cat, that could mean big news for you beginning this Friday.
What license, you ask? You're not alone. Many pet owners are apparently unaware that the law requires them to license their pets and renew that license every year. The county had only 134,500 pet licenses on record last year, yet estimates that there are some 540,000 cats or dogs in its terrain, according to spokesperson Christine Lange.
Up until now, if the county caught you with an unlicensed pooch or kitty, it gave you a chance to correct for your neglect. Only if you refused would the county issue a $75 fine. Now, if you're caught, it's too late. You're subject to a fine of either $125 or $250 (the fine is greater if your pet is not spayed or neutered.) The policy is modeled on Seattle's, which gives no second chances before handing out a $125 fine to license scofflaws.
Of course, first the county has to catch you. It does have animal control officers that patrol parks and even go door to door looking for naughty pet owners. But Lange concedes that the officers, who concentrate on a section of the county each year, can only get to a fraction of pet-owning households.
Even so, the county issued 674 fines last year, many to people who agreed to buy a license but said they didn't have the necessary $30 (or more for unaltered pets) on them. Officers, operating under the old rules, gave them temporary licenses on the understanding that they would buy the real thing within 30 days. When they didn't, their citations came in the mail. Seattle, by comparison, issued roughly 1,100 fines last year although it estimates having one quarter fewer unlicensed pets than the county.
As its amnesty period draws to a close, the county is pitching the upside of licenses. Among them: When the time comes, the county will euthanize licensed pets for free, a service that can cost hundreds of dollars at veterinary clinics, according to Lange. People can buy a pet license on the county website.