Dog licensing gets less lenient

Jackson County commissioners made a sensible change in dog license rules when they passed an ordinance requiring veterinarians to report all rabies vaccinations to the county Health and Human Services Department. The commissioners made it clear they were looking to increase the number of dog license fees collected, but there are other good public policy reasons for the change as well.

Until the new ordinance, dog owners could have their dogs vaccinated against rabies — a sensible precaution that protects those animals, other animals and people too — but they never had to bother to license their dogs.

That deprived the county's Animal Care and Control Department of needed revenue. The department gets about one-third of its budget — more than $400,000 — from license fees.

The county has tried to find unlicensed dogs by sending staff door-to-door — hardly an efficient method. Now, the reports from veterinarians will give the county a database to mail out notices to dog owners who don't have a license on file.

Critics of government in all its forms who like to complain when they are asked to pay taxes for services they personally do not use — parks, swimming pools, you name it — should be all for a system that expects dog owners to help pay for a department that, among other things, reunites lost pets with their owners. The more dogs that are licensed, the easier it is to track down a lost animal's owner.

Beyond that, Animal Care and Control is responsible for responding to complaints about destructive dogs and operating the county animal shelter that houses stray animals. Dog owners have a responsibility to license their pets and help support those services.

Veterinarians objected to the new rules, saying they are uncomfortable being "policemen" and predicting dog owners would neglect to vaccinate their pets against rabies to avoid having to license them.

We don't buy that argument. Most dog owners are responsible enough to know their pets are at risk without immunization.

Also, county officials noted similar ordinances are on the books in Lane, Klamath and Multnomah counties with no reported problems. Veterinarians in Multnomah County also objected when the ordinance was adopted there, but now support it. And there is no evidence that the number of rabies vaccinations declined.

County officials say there are 21,000 licensed dogs in the county, and estimate that accounts for only 40 percent of all dogs. That's unacceptable.

If the new ordinance increases the number of licensed dogs, it will be a success.

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