Should You License Your Dog? Two Views

With Baxter’s gotcha anniversary recently, it was time to renew his license with the city. Pet licensing can be a contentious issue, so I reached out to two people to get perspectives on both sides – should you license your dog?

Karen Edwards is an animal services advisor at the City of Hamilton where we live. She works in the Licensing and By-law Services department.

Wendy is a dog owner who chose not to license her dog. She asked not to be identified by her real name or city.

Karen estimates there are between 70,000 and 80,000 dogs in Hamilton. At the end of 2016, 39,844 dogs were licensed (50-56%). It’s the law in our city that owners must get a license before their dog is three months old and attach it to the dog’s collar.

Dog license requirements by city

Dog licensing laws vary quite a bit depending on what country, city or county you live in. In the comments, it would be interesting to hear from some of you about what’s required in your area.

In our case, we have to renew Baxter’s licence every year. The cost is $33 (CAN). There are reduced rates for puppies or for lower income people. The rates are higher for unneutered or unspayed dogs or if you renew after the deadline.

If you have a dog without a license, you may be fined $180 up to $10,000.

Should you license your dog?

Should you license your dog?

A dog license is required by law in many areas

Karen says the simple answer of why people should license their dogs is, “It’s the law. The long answer is that with a license tag on the dog, Animal Services staff can get a dog home quickly if it’s lost.”

In Hamilton, licensed dogs get one free ride home a year, without the dog going into a shelter first, she says.

“If a pet was found injured, it allows staff to contact the owner immediately so the owner can make the life-altering decisions regarding its care.”

One dollar from each licensing fee is also used to create and maintain leash free areas in the city of Hamilton.

Many dog owners don’t license their dogs

For Wendy, there were many reasons she decided to stop buying a dog license in her city. For one, she didn’t see a personal benefit for her and her dog.

“The only benefit… promoted by the city is Animal Control picking-up and temporarily housing any lost dogs,” she says.

“But part of my job as a dog owner is ensuring my dog is healthy and safe, and I take that very seriously, so I am vigilant and take many precautions to ensure my dog will not be lost.”

Baxter wearing his license

Where do the funds from dog licenses go?

I was pleased to learn from Karen that all licensing revenue in our city stays with Animal Services and helps maintain the city’s shelters—feeding, medically treating, vaccinating, and caring for stray and unwanted animals. In fact, $1 million of the Animal Services’ $4-million budget comes from licensing fees.

For us, we haven’t been in a situation where Baxter has been picked up by Animal Services, and we’re not huge users of the off-leash parks.

So, the benefits that Animal Services lists on our annual license renewal form aren’t big sellers for us. Learning that we’re helping other needy animals in the city is more incentive for me to maintain Baxter’s license.

Some dog owners don’t see licensing necessary

For Wendy, another factor in not licensing her dog is her own feelings on animal control practices in her city.

“My city tends to use a lot of fear tactics, particularly when it comes to dogs,” she explains. “Some of the information they put out is misguided and completely inaccurate.”

She cites an example where her city stated that dog owners who get a license usually take better care of their dogs and are better dog owners. “Of course, the city didn’t provide any data or proof to back-up that claim.”

She also notes that dogs are the only domestic animal required to have a license in her city, yet many cats roam freely without a license.

Should you license your dog

“I did have a license for the first few years of dog ownership, but after becoming educated about the city’s animal control practices, I chose not to renew the license,” she says.

“I suppose this is my way of protesting… even though it means I may have to pay for it, literally!”

Wendy said that getting a ticket is always a threat and a possibility, but she feels that due to understaffing in her city’s by-law and animal control departments, the chance of getting caught is relatively low.

As for Hamilton, Karen emphasizes that Animal Services has a zero tolerance policy in place for unlicensed dogs.

Educating dog owners on dog behaviour

Wendy would like to see education be a focus for her city’s animal control department.

“There’s a lot of misinformation and ignorance surrounding canine behaviour, but I think proper education would better equip owners and benefit the community as a whole,” she says.

“I’d like to see the City implement a mandatory course as a condition of the license. However, I recognize the challenges this idea presents, including the politics involved in sourcing that education. ”

Karen says Animal Services staff work there because they truly care about the pets in their community. She and other Animal Services staff are continuing to improve services and offer additional incentives that encourage more dog owners to license their dogs.

She says she’s aware of the objections about licensing, from “it’s a cash grab” to “my dog never gets out.”

For us, incentive or not, we will continue to buy a license for Baxter. He also wears his ID tags and he has a microchip.

Do you license your dog? Why or why not?

How does licensing work in your city?

Julia Preston is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She lives on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada.

Related posts:

Baxter the escape artist

Why are so many cats killed in shelters?

39 thoughts on “Should You License Your Dog? Two Views”

  1. I always have my dogs licensed, vaccinated and microchipped. The tags on the collar helps people know that this huge dog has a home and a person that loves him if he ever were to get out on his own.

      1. When I had dogs, they were always licensed, in the event that they got out and took off-which they sometimes did, despite my vigilance. My last dog, I purchased a ‘Lifetime License’ – no worries about renewing every year and it wasn’t that expensive. She was also microchipped.

    1. BearRebublicMendo

      Within Mendocino County we have a dog licensing law of long never enforced standing. My county offers occasional amnesty periods of licensing for its residents, they however don’t offer any attempted returns of animals or reduced animal control rates. They in fact hold animals most often overnight so owners must pay for boarding and fines, they do not offer funding for off leash parks and most of the funds go to general fund resources diverted to local sheriff’s office who run and oversee animal control in a already small number of officer to resident ratio. I disagree with extra fees for certain breeds and whether the animal is cut or uncut, the fact of the matter as the owner is the determining factor into how and what the dog does. I believe that vacto nations are important and chipping when possible, I however have had both spayed/neutered and not and those without unneeded surgery lived longer and yes I had to watch my male dogs when around females in heat and pay attention to when my female was in heat and no I never had both male and female at same time. What I feel is the old saying of taxation without representation and if I’m surely not ensured safe return of my loved pet or at least an emmediate call to its whereabouts without extra gated fees than you’ll see my dog with a brass I’d on the collar, hanging from it, vet rabies tag with notated ownership, and a subdermal tag when possible. I have never lost a dog as Ive never let one out of my eye and wouldn’t leave it in unfamiliar land even if hell was to be on fire or freezing. Keep your children close and your dog’s closer.

  2. Licensing my dog costs $6 /year. And she doesn’t have to wear the tag since she has a chip. So, it seems like a reasonable fee.

  3. I live in Toronto and license my dog and my two cats. My feeling is that the money supports animal services and therefore other homeless animals (mine were all adopted). While I am responsible and it is unlikely my animals would ever get outside or lost, you can’t prepare for every possible scenario so I feel like licensing them is another layer of protection. They are also microchipped for the same reason. What if there was an emergency and paramedics, police or fire had to break down our door? They would all be scared and could possibly escape. What if a house guest leaves the door open? You hope none of those things will happen and it is highly unlikely, but for the sake of $50 a year (for all three animals combined) I would rather have animal services on my side in the event that I need them.

  4. A license is required by law in California. Proof of rabies vaccination is required to get licensed. So does that mean you don’t vaccinate your dogs if you don’t license them? That in itself is not smart in my opinion. And yes if my dog ever does run off, get lost, he will be protected in more ways than one–knowledge of rabies vaccination if found, protected for himself and others, and along with his chip, more likely for me to be contacted in a timely manner. My city gives discounted fees to seniors too.

    1. P.S. It’s $9 a year for me. And rabies vaccines are good for 3 years, which my vet also discounts for seniors as well as the animal shelter that issues the license. And we can renew online or by mail after the initial license. Couldn’t be simpler than that.

    2. Not licensing a dog does not mean an owner also doesn’t vaccinate. Rabies vaccines are required in Ontario. Validating vaccinations is something I was interested in when I spoke with our animal services staff. On our license form, we have to check a box that says our vaccinations, but it’s not checked in any way. Karen let me know that sometimes they audit their files or a handful of dogs and that’s when vaccinations may be checked.

  5. Lindsay Stordahl

    This is a good topic and thanks for everyone who has chimed in. It’s interesting to hear your opinions on licensing. Thank you for not speaking poorly of people who have not licensed their dogs (I haven’t) and instead encouraging other dog owners to think about doing so. Good to hear different perspectives.

  6. Aloha,

    First, to answer your question in the subject line of your email, no, I don’t think that not licensing your dog puts your dog in any danger. I do think that licensing can help if you or your dog find yourselves in certain situations.

    Let me begin by stating that I am a retired police officer (no, not Honolulu although that is where I currently reside). In 25 years of service I have responded to numerous dog calls, lost dogs, found dogs, aggressive dogs, injured dogs, dead dogs, fighting dogs, disputes over dog, stolen dogs, etc.

    I agree with the reasons for licensure already stated. One reason not stated is proof of legal ownership. Licensing creates another paper trail, often available in government data bases, that can prove ownership. The expression, “Possession is nine tenths of the law.” has real life application. I have responded to numerous disputes over property ownership, including dogs. If two people both claim ownership, and no one can provide documentation, generally the property goes with the one that currently possesses that property. You might have documentation at home by way of veterinarian bills, adoption papers, etc. but that does little good on-scene, and an officer, sadly to say, might not want to wait for you to produce that paperwork. Licensing may prevent that.

    Another reason to license your dog, if required by law, is because it is required by law. I could provide lengthy comment on this subject, but I will leave it at, as Karen state, because it’s the law.

    In Honolulu it costs $10 to license a neutered dog, 8 months or older, with a veterinarians certificate. The biggest commitment was waiting in line!

    Getting a mainland dog here, to a rabies free island, that’s a whole other story!

  7. I had a license for both of my pups when we lived in NoVA because it was the law there. I was a first time doggie owner and definitely wanted to do everything the “right way”, so I didn’t think twice about it, especially because it wasn’t expensive at all. I’m trying to remember if our apartment complex wanted their license numbers, but I can’t remember. Now that we live in rural NC, there are no licensing requirements for dogs. I remember how surprised I was when I couldn’t find an online form for our new county, but our new vet confirmed that it is, indeed, impossible to license your dog here, even if you wanted to. Things are a little different in the South, especially in the countryside.

  8. At least get a microchip and keep your address up to date on the record. If your dog gets out because a workman or you leave a gate or door open, if your dog finds a way out because of 4th of July fireworks, jumps out of your car or gets out for any other reason there is a good chance that you will be reunited. In our city a license is inexpensive and it will save you from a fine.And it helps to support the local shelter. We vaccinate, have name tags, have a license and microchip.

  9. Carol Jean Hertkorn

    I am a senior citizen in Philadelphia P A and it cost me $8.00/year toget a license..Yes she is chipped to. I tend to always obey laws. Also the extra layer of identification although if she got away it would be without her collar and tags. My biggest fear!

  10. We live in PA, and a lifetime license costs around $50. I have elected to microchip my dogs and our vet will not fill out the microchip paper without proper licensing information. There was an article that went out in central PA maybe 3 years ago that really pushed people to make sure their dogs are licensed, and that they would begin doing door-to-door check-ins of people’s houses to see if dogs were licensed.

      1. We have that too. I don’t do it, I update on a 3-year schedule in sync with her rabies vaccine, but it’s an option.

  11. Why wouldn’t I license her? It isn’t even a question. It’s the law, and I prefer to stay on the correct side of that. She gets a free ride home if she’s lost (and even the most vigilant owners can lose a dog). Not everyone believes Minneapolis Animal Care and Control does a good job, but I do, and I want to support them. And having a city license – in whatever city you live – can open doors to other opportunities in my metro area. So really, it’s a no-brainer.

  12. We’ve always licensed and vaccinated (even got a lifetime license and then moved to a different city). However, this coming January may be tricky, as we did not renew one dog’s rabies vaccine. She’s having some issues with her thyroid, so we opted to titer instead. Titer shows she’s adequately protected against rabies, and her vet recommended NOT to vaccinate.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, that is an issue in quite a few areas. In order to get a license, the pet must be up to date on the rabies vaccination as required by law, but sometimes it’s not in the best interest of the pet to get the vaccine. My vet does not encourage me to vaccinate my senior indoor cats for rabies, even though it is legally required for them to be licensed and vaccinated where I live. I’m sorry to hear your dog has had some thyroid issues.

  13. Interesting information; I’ve never really questioned where the licensing money goes, and I have to admit I don’t know how it’s allocated in my state.

    The cost is $7.50 a year for a spayed/neutered dog, and I do renew it each year. But if she (and my previous) dogs hadn’t come from the animal shelter where those are automatically issued I don’t know that I would have taken it upon myself to get one (it’s required by law, but I’ve never heard much of it being enforced here).

  14. We have always licensed our dogs (and cat) because it is the law, but in many ways we don’t feel that it is the fair and just system it claims to be. Depending on your county, city limits, state, etc, licensing laws and fees can be very different. If you have intact animals, you’re paying over $100 each and every year for each one while pets that are desexed cost their owner around $20 yearly (obviously this varies depending on areas, but the vast price difference is often extreme). The idea that this is to cut down on “bad breeders” or encourage people to spay/neuter is a fallacy. People who follow the law are the ones that license their pets, and are therefore not the ones that these laws are supposed to weed out and target. Is everyone who doesn’t license their pets bad? Of course not, but my biggest issue with the reasoning behind the fees and regulations is that it doesn’t do anything to catch the “bad guys”, but instead it puts more and more regulations and expenses on well meaning people who do everything right. Laws around pet ownership are becoming more constricting by the day it seems. It is a scary thing to think about the direction these regulations are going if we all want to continue to have the right to own pets in the future.

  15. I have always licensed our dogs, Murphy for the ten years we had him, and now Lambeau. It is the law here and I know if he ever gets loose (and the best watched dogs sometimes do), and is picked up by animal control, we will be facing a fine. And that’s not the only reason. An unlicensed dog that is picked up here and whose owner can’t be found, can be legally euthanized after a waiting period is over. Now, I know *most* towns and cities will try to adopt unclaimed, healthy, friendly dogs, but I don’t want to risk my dog being the one that gets trapped by this part of the state’s law. For me, the risks are far greater than the licensing fee.

  16. I was pretty lax renewing Stetson’s license and guess what? Animal Control stopped by my house. I wasn’t home, but they left me a note on the door. Anyhow here in Orange County when you get your puppy/dog his first rabies vaccination the vet sends that information to the OC Animal Control. Then OC Animal Control sends you a bill to license your dog and apparently if you don’t pay the bill they send someone to your house.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh! Wow, that seems very extreme. Our vet also sent in Ace’s rabies certificate to animal control and I got a letter and bill 4 years ago. I never paid it and thankfully no one came to my door! I’ve never licensed a pet but I think I’m going to license Remy for the extra protection if he ever runs off or gets stolen. I also had him chipped for the same reason.

      1. All of our dogs are microchipped too. It is always nice to have that extra layer of protection, but as others have mentioned I like to think that the money is going to help the dogs at the shelter as well.

  17. Sandy Weinstein

    i think where i live you have to have rabies, etc. b4 you can get the license. since my girls were too small, at 16 wks, i did not get rabies shots til they were older. i had 2 breeders one of which was a vet, who did my dog’s ears and she said to wait, that she needed to grow more b4 she got her rabies shots. i did have problems with my previous vet. she wanted to charge me an additional 50.00 in case the dog bite someone. the dog weighed abt 6 lbs and was a sweetheart. i did not pay, i was pissed since i had been a long time client. my oldest who recently died, a wk ago today, had not had any shots for several yrs due to health reasons. i will stop some of the shots on my other girls as soon as they get a little older. my dog breeder stops her vac as soon as they stop showing. going to the cancer vet for almost a yr, i found that many people had stopped all vac on their dogs. what is strange is that, i found 2 people that had stopped all vac, heartworm, flea/tick, etc and their dogs went into remission, when the warm weather came back and one person started going back to the lake, she tried flea/tick and some other vac and the cancer came back full speed, the dog died within a wk. all of these chemicals we are putting in our dogs, on them are killing them. i saw puppy, 7 mos old with spots on their liver, a 2 yr old jack russell had end stage cancer of the knee, no knee at all, a 5 yr old put bull terminal cancer, young dogs. i talked to my homeopathic vet abt all of this b/c she said she is getting more and more dogs, young dogs that have cancer. it is the chemicals in the grass, what we feed them, over vaccinations, etc. if you have a good relationship with your vet she can write you a note stating for health reasons, your dog should not have vaccinations.

  18. I live in San Diego County and it’s the law that all dogs be licensed. I complied for 30 years because “it’s the law” but I don’t any more. All my dogs have been micro chipped so I don’t worry about them getting lost and I’ve given the appropriate vaccinations to develop immunity. I now titre my dogs to make sure they have adequate antibodies for every doggie disease that they can get. However, San Diego Animal Control will not accept a titre showing sufficient antibodies for rabies and will not give me a license (that I’m happy to pay for) until I get my dog a rabies shot which she doesn’t need. We over-vaccinate in this country to the detriment of our dogs health and I will no longer participate in this mind-set.

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