Sacramento pet owners react to city's new plan to aggressively enforce the licensing of animals
Have you neglected to renew Fido’s or Fifi’s pet license? The city of Sacramento is about to take you to task.
As of July 1, the city will begin tracking down pet owners and aggressively enforcing a longtime code requiring that dogs and cats be licensed and vaccinated against rabies, said Front Street Shelter manager Gina Knepp.
The shelter will mail notices to pet owners who have failed to renew their dog’s or cat’s license, which for one year costs $20 for a neutered or spayed animal and requires proof of rabies vaccination. Those who fail to obtain a renewal within 30 days will receive a second notice. After that, failure to comply will result in a “correctable” $300 citation, which can be waived if a license is obtained within 30 days. If not, the citation will be permanent. Further citations will cost scofflaw pet owners $500.
Only 13 percent of pets in Sacramento are properly licensed, the city estimates. That compares to a national average of about 30 percent. In some parts of Canada, aggressive enforcement has resulted in compliance rates of as high as 60 percent, authorities have reported.
Unlicensed pets reside in neighborhoods across the city, from wealthier areas like Curtis Park to more modest ones in south Sacramento, Knepp said. “It doesn’t seem to matter where you live or whether you’re wealthy,” she said. “The compliance rate is low everywhere.”
Most pet owners in the capital city “probably have no clue” that licenses are required for dogs and cats, Knepp acknowledged. The city code has been in place for “years and years,” she said, but never has been fully enforced. Animal control officers issue citations for unlicensed animals when they encounter them, she said, but those represent a small fraction of the estimated 250,000 pet dogs and cats in the community.
“We have the ability to do automatic citations, but we weren’t doing it,” Knepp said. “We tried other ways of getting people to pay attention to licensing their animals, but nothing worked.
“Licensing is just not on the top of most people’s list of things to get done,” she said. “Some people have a ‘Catch me if you can’ mentality about it. Well, now I am going to catch you.”
David Dickinson, director of Sacramento County’s animal shelter on Bradshaw Road, said people outside the city limits are no better at licensing compliance. “We’re probably at about 14 percent to 17 percent,” he said.
Dickinson said the county will be monitoring the outcome of the city’s efforts to boost those numbers. “If it works, we’d certainly consider it,” he said. But he wonders whether the administrative hassles will exceed the benefits.
Residents and their pets can be difficult to track, he noted. “People move; their pets die; they don’t have the pet any longer,” Dickinson said. “I think this will cause a lot of uproar among animal owners.”
All pets adopted from both the county and city shelters receive licenses, along with microchips and spaying and neutering surgeries. The agencies keep track of that information, and also get notification from private veterinarians who vaccinate animals against rabies.
Pet owners in the city’s data system will begin receiving notices beginning next month as their pet licenses expire. Residents who participate in programs for people with low incomes, including PG&E and SMUD utility assistance, can get their license for free if their pet is spayed or neutered.
Licenses can be renewed by mail, at the downtown shelter or online at www.cityofsacramento.org.
“This is not meant to be punitive,” Knepp said of the licensing program. “It’s not about the government trying to get another $20 from you. It’s about the safety of our pets, and of the community.” Collecting licensing fees also will provide a financial boost to the overcrowded shelter, she added.
Rabies cases in humans are rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only a few cases are reported annually. But wildlife in California can carry the rabies virus and infect domestic animals. The CDC receives reports of hundreds of cases of rabies among dogs and cats each year.
“Animals are a community problem and a community responsibility,” Knepp said. This week, animal control officers responded to a report of a raccoon on a sidewalk near Fourth and T streets, near two roaming cats, in broad daylight. The raccoon’s behavior could suggest rabies infection.
The city estimates that it could have collected about $150,000 last year from residents who failed to renew their pet licenses. That money, Knepp said, could be used to fund more animal control officers to respond to emergency calls, vaccination clinics and spay and neuter programs, among other things.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of animals in our shelter; to make sure that they don’t end up here in the first place,” Knepp said. “People don’t want to see pets dying at the pound. If they really do care about that, they should license their pets. Because an animal with a license and tag is going home.”
Spencer Breining-Aday, a college student who lives in Land Park, pondered the city’s plan as he walked his dog Lulu in the neighborhood this week. Lulu, a chow mix, is properly licensed, as are his two cats, Winnie and Sarah, Breining-Aday said.
“For me, spending $20 to get a license is not a big deal,” he said. “But I think it could be a bigger challenge for people in lower socioeconomic groups. Other than that, I think it’s a great way to make sure that our pets are healthy. I’m in favor of it.”
Dia Goode trotted through the park with her Labrador mix, Maurice. She supports the city’s new approach, she said, but would like to see it go further by cracking down on licensing of “backyard breeders” and the puppies they sell.
“I think licensing is really important, but it really hasn’t been on anyone’s radar,” Goode said. “It’s never been made an important issue.”