Ellen Taft, Seattle’s Dogged Dog Watchdog, Calls for a Boycott to Protest Unlicensed Pets

This isn’t Taft’s first rodeo.

Ellen Taft says Seattle’s dog policy reminds her “French aristocracy in the ancient régime.”

Ellen Taft, the dogged dog watchdog who in the past has called for a ban on pit bulls and blown the whistle on pet-friendly restaurants, is now calling for a boycott on all Seattle licenses to protest the lack of enforcement on unlicensed pets in the city.

Noting widely cited figures that only about 20 percent of dogs in Seattle are licensed, Taft argues that it makes no sense for anyone to pay fees to the city until it gets serious about enforcing pet rules. Taft says she’s done all she can to get the city on board before going the boycott route.

“I sent letters to the mayor, registered letters to the mayor, the city council, saying there’s this problem,” she says. “They’ve done nothing.”

This is not a new cause for Taft, as she’ll tell you.

“McGinn, before he was elected mayor, I briefed him on this as I handed him a check. Then, every time he was on NPR, I called in and brought it up, and he’d say, ‘Oh, I’ve never heard about that.’” She says she called in twice. She says she called into NPR when Mayor Greg Nickels was on as well, and got cut off.

Taft argues the lack of licensing results in taxpayers subsidizing pet ownership, which she calls “a first-world luxury.”

“It reminds me of the French aristocracy in the ancient régime, their luxuries were subsidized at the expense of the peasantry and middle classes, so that they would support the absolute monarchy.”

Whoa.

Were there 100 percent compliance, pet licenses would actually produce a budget surplus, which could go to things like a free spay-and-neuter clinic, Taft says. Capitol Hill Times, citing Seattle Animal Shelter, reported earlier this month that 43,645 of the 153,000 dogs living in Seattle are licensed, and that “licensing the more than 100,000 unlicensed dogs would earn the city approximately $2.2 million annually.”

Taft says the New Year is a perfect time for a boycott, since that’s when many businesses will be paying their business fees to the city—fees that will increase dramatically next year thanks to a plan approved in July to pay for more police officers.

“Mayor Murray wants to increase business licenses to raise money, but won’t go after the uncollected revenue, of pet owners,” Taft says in a press release announcing her plan.

The city hasn’t been totally inactive on the point of unlicensed dogs. Earlier this year, the Parks Department tapped two staffers to enforce dog rules in parks, which included making sure dog owners picked up poop but also licensed their pets.

Meanwhile, King County has been pulling dog-food purchase data from grocery stores in hopes of finding possible scofflaws.

But Taft isn’t satisfied. She says the city could take true action, such as impounding unlicensed dogs for a week and making the owner pay for it, or banning people from owning any future pets if they are caught with an unlicensed dog. She even suggests that the state start taxing dog food to create a dedicated fund for animal services.

“People know they don’t have to do it. They get away with it too easily,” she says.

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