Oct 27, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Effective Jan. 1, New York State will have no hand in the issuing of dog licenses and its statewide dog database will no longer exist.
The changes come with a new law, signed June 22 by Governor Patterson, that moves the remaining dog licensing tasks from the Department of Agriculture and Markets to municipalities. Town clerks first heard rumblings of the law at a statewide clerk’s conference last April and have been planning for the turnover, as an association, ever since. Some feel the change was long overdue.
“The state’s participation was minimal at best,” said Marcellus Town Clerk Karen Pollard. “All the state did was send out the renewal form and provide the tags.”
It’s been the case that if you needed a license for your dog – state law requires all dogs be licensed after four months – you would go to the town clerk. The clerk would set you up with the paperwork, charge you roughly $5.50, and eventually a license would come in the mail from the state.
The state was responsible for sending out the first renewal reminder and form; license renewal is typically due yearly. According to Elbridge Town Clerk Deb Stapleton, the state recently fell behind on this responsibility.
Stapleton said the Department of Agriculture and Markets sent her an e-mail apologizing for sending out 100,000 license renewal forms past the Sept. 30 renewal date. This e-mail came after she sent out reminders to dog owners who were about three weeks late on their renewal.
“Most people rely on that three-part form to remind them,” she said.
The loss of the statewide registry will affect different municipalities in different ways, often depending on their size.
Many towns have their own database already in place. Clerks for smaller towns like Marcellus and Elbridge will not necessarily miss the state’s service.
Pollard said she never once used it.
“We have a better handle on our database than the state does,” she said.
While the town of Elbridge has its own database as well, Steve Remp, the town’s dog control officer, will feel the loss of the statewide registry.
“On weekends it will be a pain in the butt,” he said. “The database was a big help to me on weekends; during the work week I can call the town office.”
The town of Camillus, whose dog population towers over that of Marcellus, has relied entirely on the database ever since it was established four years ago. The state’s catalog made it easy to transfer dogs between towns, said Town Clerk Martha Dickson-McMahon .
Dickson-McMahon noted that when the dog control officer finds a dog from another town – one that is properly licensed — he will now have to get on the phone and track down the appropriate town official. The new law requires the tags carry the name of the town and the town’s phone number, along with the registration number.
“We’re losing an awful lot of convenience and I’m pretty disappointed about it,” Dickson-McMahon said.
A shifting program
The new law significantly changes the Animal Population Control Program, which was enacted in 1995 in an effort to encourage adoptions from animal shelters. The program offered vouchers for spay and neutering services to people who adopted dogs and cats from the pound.
The APCP was amended in 2006 to reach out to low-income pet owners, making vouchers available to them, regardless of where they obtained their pet. According to a letter from the state summarizing the program changes, this is what did the service in.
“Due to the unprecedented demand created by the 2006 law,” it reads, “the balance in the dedicated APCP Fund – fortified primarily by a $3 surcharge on licenses issued for unaltered dogs – depleted quickly.”
The letter states that the current APCP has been dormant since October 2009, during which time municipalities have continued to forward cash to the Department of Agriculture and Markets. The balance is expected to exceed $700,000 by January, all of which will remain in the APCP Fund, according to the letter.
New York is in the process of selecting an administrative entity to run the APCP. The entity will remain responsible for disbursing funds to shelters, pounds, SPCAs and other groups.
The most important change in the program’s operation, according to the letter, will be its transformation “from a state-operated voucher/veterinary reimbursement program to one that authorizes the chosen administrative entity to disburse grants to eligible spay/neuter programs.”
The law mandates that municipalities collect at least $1 for an altered dog and $3 for an unaltered dog to be given to the ACPC in its new form.
One town’s approach
With the new law, every town in the state must draft a local law redefining its approach to dog licensing.
The state had exempted show dogs from having to be licensed, which Pollard said the town of Marcellus hopes to do away with – simply because there just aren’t many show dogs in Marcellus. Owners of purebred dogs could also license them in groups, which Marcellus hopes to cease locally as well.
“We don’t have kennels, we don’t have a breeder … It didn’t make any sense to continue that program,” Pollard said.
The town board is also considering raising the licensing fee from $5.50 to $6 for an altered dog and from $13.50 to $14 for an unaltered dog. Supervisor Dan Ross said that fee has not gone up in years.
Under the new law, all Department of Agriculture and Markets tags must eventually be replaced with local ones. The town of Marcellus already purchased 2,000 tags in preparation.
Cutting to the chase
Municipalities will continue to enforce the state dog licensing law. Pollard estimates that nine out of 10 dogs in Marcellus are either unlicensed or are licensed with no tag worn.
“The thing is, you have to put the tag on the dog,” she said.
Stapleton says Elbridge has the same problem.
“We have 1,000 dogs licensed; who knows how many dogs are unlicensed, she said.
Remp urges that not licensing your dog is not an option.
“The problem is when I pick up a lot of dogs without the tag and they end up at the shelter,” he said. After six days, some shelters put unlicensed dogs to sleep. But Remp takes dogs to a “no-kill shelter,” the Fingerlakes SPCA of Auburn.
Remp admits that unlicensed dogs can often be identified in other ways – if not by a personalized tag, the increasingly popular embedded micro-chip.
In those cases, he would call the owner and get the dog home.
“I’d rather help than hurt,” he said.