County lax on dog tax: Shelter faces shortfalls without funds

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 4/4/17

Jefferson County residents may love their dogs, but they care a lot less about making sure they’re properly licensed.

While Paul Becker, president of the Humane Society of Jefferson County, …

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County lax on dog tax: Shelter faces shortfalls without funds

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Jefferson County residents may love their dogs, but they care a lot less about making sure they’re properly licensed.

While Paul Becker, president of the Humane Society of Jefferson County, estimates that 1,165 dog licenses were issued in Jefferson County last year, with 415 of them in Port Townsend alone, he’s also estimated that 7,838 households in Jefferson County have dogs.

And yet, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office informed Becker that only one dog owner was cited, between 2012 and 2016, for not having a license, while Sheriff Dave Stanko reported that only two dog owners have been cited for not having licenses this year.

“It’s more than striking,” Becker said. “It’s been an annoyance of ours for quite some time.”

Becker explained that the Humane Society is meant to be able to operate its shelter, at least in part, on the funds it receives from issuing dog licenses, as part of its agreement with Jefferson County.

“As it stands, our total revenue, which includes services ranging from adoption to cremation, covers, if we’re lucky, about 50 percent of our operating costs,” Becker said.

Becker noted that the Humane Society has a separate agreement with the City of Port Townsend, which guarantees the shelter $5,000 in license purchases from city residents per quarter. The city makes up any shortage in license sales, whether dog licensing is enforced or not.

Stanko pointed out that he has only one animal control officer, Bruce Turner, who also works with the Department of Corrections.

“This county has limited resources, and he has a number of mandated responsibilities,” said Stanko, who pointed out that Turner prefers to issue warnings before he issues tickets for unlicensed dogs. “The more time he focuses on this, the more we have to pull him off the road for his other duties.”

Stanko cited the staffing study that the sheriff’s office conducted in conjunction with Washington State University, the results of which indicated the need for seven more patrol deputies by 2020. Although he pledged that his department is “working toward that goal,” he also reported four current openings in the corrections division.

“We’re responding to all animal calls,” Stanko said. “Bruce also wears his corrections hat, and is responsible for most civil service within the county, along with his animal control duties. I feel his initial warning is prudent. If we have a second complaint, we issue a citation. Our goal is compliance, nothing more.”

Becker is unsatisfied with this response, and contended that Stanko has not only ignored multiple complaints that he’s filed about unlicensed dogs, but has also turned ablind eye to a number of sheriff’s department personnel who have allegedly failed to license their own dogs.

“I will not give an opinion on an accusation unless I have proof of a wrongdoing,” Stanko said.

“We have two commercial breeders who have neglected to get their kennel licenses for the past two years,” Becker said. “The code requires that applicants present proof of rabies vaccination, and without those applications, we don’t know that those dogs have received their rabies vaccinations.”

Becker pointed out that Jefferson County’s animal code mandates that every dog and cat in the county receive a valid rabies certification to qualify for a license.

“We did have a rabid cat, about a year ago,” Becker said. “They brought it up from Chimacum, where they didn’t have the equipment to handle a possible rabies case safely, but we did, because we’d bought the equipment ourselves.”

Becker warned that rabies is endemic to the Olympic Peninsula due to its native bat population, with which dogs and cats run the risk of coming into contact.

“It was a well-intentioned measure that kind of backfired, I think,” Becker said. “The goal was that every dog or cat who got licensed would also be vaccinated for rabies, but I suspect a lot of people said, ‘Well, if I have to do that, then I just won’t license my dog.’”

Becker conceded that cats are not legally required to be licensed.

Rabies concerns aside, Becker further claimed to have sent lists of “hundreds of people” to Stanko, who were not renewing their dog licenses, and he’s seen no response.

“A lot of those folks owned multiple dogs,” said Becker, who added that the cost of a single license for a spayed or neutered dog or cat is $20, which increases to $48 for unspayed, unneutered pets. “Multiply those licensing fees, per animal, with the hundreds of unlicensed animals out there, and that’s how much lost revenue, for our shelter, that we’re talking about.”

Just as important, Becker emphasized that licensing one’s dog allows the owner to be identified and reunited with their pet relatively quickly.

“Even if they’re traveling out of state, a call to the shelter with the license tag number allows us to contact the owner’s cell phone,” Becker said. “There’s no cost to redeem an impounded dog the first time, whereas the citation fee for the first offense of an unlicensed dog is $114. A license is your dog’s ticket home.”

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