Sacramento's crackdown on pet owners who fail to license their dogs and cats seems to be working.
Licensing revenues have soared since the city's Front Street Animal Shelter announced in June that it was about to begin aggressively enforcing a longtime code requiring pets to be licensed and vaccinated against rabies.
Between June 2017 and March 21 of this year, the city collected $380,910 in licensing revenue, nearly double the amount it received during the same period a year earlier, said shelter manager Gina Knepp. Knepp attributed the increase to media accounts about the crackdown.
"I think people are starting to understand why it's important to license their pets," Knepp said. "It's good for the entire community."
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Although rabies cases in humans are rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wildlife in California can carry the rabies virus and infect domestic animals. Licensed pets also are easier to track and reunite with their owners, Knepp pointed out. The city's $20 licensing fee includes a free rabies vaccine and identifying microchip.
Knepp said the shelter is perpetually underfunded and overloaded, and the new licensing revenue will relieve some pressure. "I may be able to put this money toward veterinary help, officers and helping injured animals," she said. "There is a cost to saving these lives, but I want to do it."
City manager Howard Chan said all funds generated by the licensing program will be rolled into the shelter's budget.
"If Gina raises a million dollars, we will find a way to funnel it back into the shelter," Chan said. "I am a big fan of all that they do there." The city manager said he adopted his pet, "Mortie, the best dog ever," from Front Street.
Statistics gathered by the shelter show that in July of last year, the first month of aggressive enforcement, the city sold 1,600 new dog and cat licenses, compared with 614 in July 2016. License renewals also jumped, from 437 in July 2016 to 714 in July of last year. The upward trend has continued every month since then, Knepp said.
The licenses cost $20 annually for a neutered or spayed animal and require proof of a rabies vaccination. Pet owners receive notices as their cat and dog licenses expire. Those who fail to obtain a renewal within 30 days receive a second notice. After that, failure to comply results in a "correctable" $300 citation, which can be waived if a license is obtained within 30 days. Persistent failure to comply results in fines of up to $500.
Residents who participate in programs for people with low incomes, including PG&E and SMUD utility assistance, can get their licenses for free if their pet is spayed or neutered.
Knepp said more than 550 people have been billed for fines related to the licensing ordinance. But only $2,100 worth of fines have been paid. More than $95,000 has gone uncollected. "Those people are going to get contacted by a debt collector," Knepp said.
"But really, while getting that money would be awesome, I would rather that people simply license their pets," she said. "My goal is not to punish people. It's to get pets registered, identified and vaccinated so that we can get them home safely if the gardener leaves the gate open and the dog gets out."
Prior to the new enforcement efforts, only 13 percent of pets in Sacramento were properly licensed, the city estimates, compared to a national average of about 30 percent.
On a recent sunny morning at the Brooks Truitt "Bark Park" in midtown Sacramento, pet owners interviewed by The Bee said they support stricter enforcement of the licensing ordinance.
"I feel like it's a great idea," said Isabel Castillo as she watched her French bulldog Little Boy play with other pups at the park. "LB is my first dog, and I pretty much followed all of the rules. I took him to the vet, got his license and vaccinations. I feel like making people get these things for their pets is a great idea."
Marie Stovall, who was at the park with her poodle mix, Growler, agreed.
"Some people probably don't know that a license is required, or they don't make it a priority," Stovall said. "But I think it's important."
Pet licenses can be renewed by mail, at the downtown Front Street Shelter or online at www.cityofsacramento.org.