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Doggone It! - License Effort Unleashed

POSTED April 6, 2011 12:09 a.m.

Compliance is the name of the game and dog owners are the target players in the city’s newest community outreach.

Recently, Oakdale Police Department announced they were going to direct their attention to bringing the city’s dog owners into dog licensing compliance by going door-to-door educating — and citing — people who haven’t done their due diligence as dog owners in the City of Oakdale.

And so far, the results have been promising.

“It’s really a community service thing,” Animal Control Officer Dan Hilgren said of the campaign. “Most people are really appreciative that we’ve brought them the information. Oakdale has a 7 percent compliance rate with dog licensing and the national average is 30 percent. So, we’re really behind the times.”

OPD used a scientific calculation based on population to speculate how many dogs are residing in Oakdale. That number — approximately 8,000 — spurred the department to investigate the compliance rate and found a low number worth improving.

And contrary to popular belief, Hilgren and Police Chief Marty West assure people it’s not solely about creating revenue.

“It’s about education and safety,” Hilgren said.

West’s standpoint is this, “It was not my intent to increase licensing compliance as a way of generating revenue. My original intent was to help Sergeant Redd address a pet over population problem at the Animal Shelter as well as a few operational issues. Last December, Sergeant Keri Redd (Animal Control Supervisor) expressed concerns that she had about animal operations. First, the animal population at the shelter was at capacity and the euthanasia rate was on the increase. Typically, the number of animals at the shelter increases in December as a result of people no longer wanting to care for a pet. Secondly, she shared that the number of dogs found roaming the streets without a license was on the increase resulting in a higher shelter population and a higher rate of euthanasia. Third, Albert Avila (Finance Director) told Keri that dog license revenue was on the decline. Finally, Keri was concerned that only a small number of dogs in Oakdale had been vaccinated for rabies based on our records in a service area close to a river with a lot of wildlife.”

West continued, saying that Redd hired Hilgren in January for a few hours each week to begin canvassing neighborhoods for unlicensed dogs. 

Hilgren went door-to-door and issued a few citations. In February, the Finance Department included an announcement in the city utility billing expressing the importance of licensing dogs and encouraging people to comply.

Betsie Corwin, a shelter volunteer, gave West the idea after a presentation to the city council regarding the low compliance rate in the city.

“Betsie is a shelter volunteer who is very active in Shelter Pet Alliance, a local non-profit organization, that was created to benefit animals in Oakdale. Over a month ago, Betsie gave a presentation at a Citizens Action Committee Workshop in which she mentioned that only 670 dogs were licensed in the cities of Oakdale and Riverbank (Riverbank contracts with us for animal control).  Betsie shared that she had obtained a formula from the American Veterinary Medical Association, which indicated that a city with a population of 40,000 (combined pop. of Oakdale and Riverbank) would likely have 8,653 dogs.  She mentioned that only 7 percent of the dogs in both cities were licensed, a compliance rate far below the national average of 30 percent.  Listening to Betsie’s presentation helped me better understand the issues that our Animal Control Unit has been experiencing.”

West then set a goal of obtaining license compliance for 50 percent of the dog population in both cities which would have an indirect benefit of generating approximately $100,000 in added revenue for animal operations.

And since Hilgren has taken to the streets, going door-to-door, the word has spread and compliance has increased, West said.

“As of last week, we have 1,502 dogs licensed. The lions’ share of the increase has been through voluntarily compliance. It is the Police Department's preference to have dog owners comply rather than having to assign an animal control officer to canvass neighborhoods for those out of compliance,” West said. “Higher compliance equates to a lower rate of euthanasia, less pet overcrowding at the shelter, and a higher level of funding (through license revenue) to offset the rising cost of providing animal control services. It also reduces the amount of downtime our animal control officers spend attempting to connect a roaming dog to its owner. It also reduces the amount of downtime that our police officers spend on loose dog calls. This is time saved that police officers can spend on gang and drug-related problems in our community. We encourage people to ensure that their dog is wearing a collar displaying the license or that they take the added step of having a microchip placed under the dog’s skin. The average cost for a chip is $40.”

Hilgren said while most people are receptive to the campaign, others have tried to wiggle out of their responsibility by giving all manner of excuses.

“Oh yes, I’ve heard them all,” Hilgren said. “Some people say, ‘it’s not my dog’ but if the dog is living in your home, you’re responsible.”

The potential fine for noncompliance is $240 per dog, and the fees go up for an unaltered dog.

“Some people think the licensing fee for an unaltered dog is high at $50 but it’s actually lower than the county, which is $150,” Hilgren said.

Also, dogs have to be licensed each year, Hilgren added. “The license expires when the rabies certificate expires,” he said.

If cited, people have 10 days to come into compliance before a fine is issued.

And just because you don’t answer the door doesn’t mean you’ve dodged a bullet.

“If I hear a dog, I’ll just come back and do a follow up,” Hilgren said.

Future plans include being able to issue licenses in the field, but currently dog owners must go to City Hall or the animal shelter with their appropriate paperwork (issued from the veterinarian).

West said they plan to continue the program indefinitely for the benefit of the community.

“The department is also exploring the option of microchipping dogs that are adopted from the shelter in an effort to enhance our services,” West said. “That way, dogs adopted by people living in the area can be quickly reunited with their owners if they get lost.  The challenge will be identifying a revenue source stream for the purchase of the microchips.”

For questions regarding the licensing program, contact Admin Sgt. Kerri Redd at 847-2231.

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