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License To Bark

Memphis Animal Services explores possibility of pet licensing.

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You need a license to drive and a license to get married, but a license to own a dog or cat? That requirement could be coming to Memphis.

At a recent Memphis Animal Services Advisory Board meeting, board members spoke about a presentation that Humane Enterprises, an Omaha-based company that contracts with cities to implement and maintain pet licensing programs, had given at Memphis Animal Services.

"This could generate more than $1 million for the shelter and help pay for a mobile pet clinic," said board member Jeanne Chancellor.

Chancellor said licensing would allow the shelter to create a pet database that would help reunite lost pets with their owners.

If the city were to adopt this program, pet owners would be required to pay a set fee for spayed or neutered animals and a higher fee for animals that have not been altered. Examples given in the presentation were $25 for sterile dogs, $50 for fertile dogs, and $15 for sterile cats. There are also late fees for those who don't pay the annual fee on time.

But Humane Enterprises operations officer Denise Nosek said each city sets its own fee scale. She said the Memphis City Council would have to pass an ordinance requiring pet owners to have a license before the city could proceed with charging fees.

"Typically, there is a city ordinance that requires that pets be licensed, and when they have to be licensed varies based on age. But once a pet is able to receive a rabies vaccination, they typically are required to get the license," Nosek said.

Janet Hooks, the city's director of Public Services and Neighborhoods, oversees shelter operations, but she was not available for comment. Dr. Steven Tower, the board chair, pointed out that Memphis Animal Services is simply exploring this option, and nothing has been decided.

"I would prefer not to pursue this but instead to raise fees on unaltered animals to raise city revenue," Tower said at the board meeting.

Cindy Sanders, a shelter reform advocate, attended the board meeting where pet licensing was discussed. She opposes pet licensing, because the city already requires pet owners to pay for a license following the animal's rabies vaccination. Those fees are $15 for a fertile dog and $5 for a sterile dog.

Between January and November of last year (December's numbers were not yet available), there were approximately 297,862 such rabies licenses issued in the city and 113,832 issued in Shelby County.

"We already have a license law on the books that is not routinely being enforced, so why put yet another license law on the books?" Sanders asked. She spends Wednesday afternoons observing the city's animal court cases, and she said only a handful of animal control officers are routinely writing tickets for violation of the rabies license law.

The city of Raleigh in North Carolina ended its decades-old pet license requirement in December, because compliance was not up to par. Only about 4 percent of pet owners had licensed their pets.

"People just by and large refused to pay it, and what are we going to do? Go door to door and say let me see Fluffy's license?" said Jayne Kirkpatrick, public affairs director for the city of Raleigh. "I think our city council very wisely decided that the last thing you want is a law that people don't respect and we can't enforce."

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