If you are a Philadelphia dog owner — and one-third of American households have dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association — you probably think you’re a responsible pet guardian.
I’m here to say you are probably a lawbreaker. And I’m not barking up a tree.
If you live in Philadelphia and own a dog, the law says the canine must be licensed.
You know how many Philly dog owners actually have the required license? Less than 5 percent, according to the City Controller’s Office, so when I accuse you of being a lawbreaker, I’m playing the odds. The annual license costs $16 for dogs above 4 months old that are altered, $40 for dogs that are intact. Owners 65 and older get a 50 percent discount.
So why are you with the 95 percent of lawbreakers? I was once, too.
I adopted my dog in 1992, and she was an outlaw for 11 years before I signed her up. I procrastinated because getting a license was harder then. It meant a trip to the SPCA or the Municipal Services Building, which meant waiting in line. Now you can get the license by mail or online. But I knew there was no enforcement.
There still isn’t.
The Philadelphia Police Department could not produce numbers before my deadline, but when was the last time you heard of someone being ticketed for an unlicensed dog?
Starting in 2004, city veterinarians were required to report information on dogs they had vaccinated against rabies to the Health Department, which handed the information to a company that would contact owners and remind them to buy a license.
If that program worked, with an estimated 350,000 dogs in Philadelphia, we’d have more dogs licensed than the 8,700 in 2017 — down from the 11,500 licensed in 2016, according to city records.
So why should I even bother telling you about the new “Liberty License,” touted as a “21st Century ID tag” by ACCT Philly, the city’s animal shelter in Feltonville?
The answer is, I do it hoping some of you will listen, for two good reasons.
First, it’s the law. Yeah, I know, that’s boring.
Second, should your dog somehow get lost, the information on the license will provide a path to help speed your pet back to you.
The new digital dog licenses are linked to free online profiles that list emergency contact information, veterinarians, pet sitters, family, and friends.
Since 2012, Philadelphia requires that “any dog adopted out has to have a license before it is released,” says Audra Houghton, interim executive director of ACCT Philly, at 111 Hunting Park Ave.
Ray Little, who runs the Saved Me animal rescue in Northern Liberties, says the license requirement is no problem for people who come there to adopt a dog. It wasn’t a problem for me when I went there to adopt Chamorro, a black and white shih tzu mix.
Logic tells me licensing numbers would be going up if owners were following the law. They’re not.
License fees do not go to the shelter, they go to the city’s general fund, although Houghton tells me a small slice pays for one ACCT staffer who handles licensing.
From time to time, animal advocates have suggested redirecting licensing funds to ACCT because its $4.2 million annual budget is lightweight compared to agencies in other large cities.
Nothing has come of the talk. If it were done, owners of unlicensed pets might be encouraged to pay up, knowing the money was going to help other homeless animals.
The Liberty Licenses are a good idea. But without enforcement, they will have no bite.