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.

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 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 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.

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 admits 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.

Do you license your dog? Why or why not?

How does licensing work in your city?

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

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Baxter the escape artist

Why are so many cats killed in shelters?

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