Oakland unleashes canine counters for dog census

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Troy — If you own a dog in Oakland County and haven’t bought a license yet, don’t even think about ignoring the mailed reminders.

Animal control workers may not yet know where you live with your unlicensed dog, but they’re determined to find out.

Didn’t know about the license requirement? Too bad, says the county’s animal control manager.

“You’ve heard the old saying that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse?’ ” said Bob Gatt of Oakland County’s Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center.

Members of the county’s Animal Control Census Team are going door-to-door in 12 communities, where they plan to check for canine scofflaws. It’s an effort started over two decades ago to boost compliance with state law and make sure rabies vaccinations are up to date. Dog owners had until May 31 to license their dogs before being sought out for an at-home reminder.

The effort may be working: The number of dog licenses appears to be going up in Oakland County. From Jan. 1 to May 31, 45,000 dog licenses were issued, 5,000 more than the same period last year, animal control officials say.

In their first week of canvassing, census team members visited 1,922 homes in Troy and issued 389 courtesy citations. While the citations carry no penalty, residents who registered their dogs after May 31 had to pay $30, which is higher than the normal fees.

It pays to act early. Before June 1, license fees ranged from $6.75 to $15, depending on whether a pet has been fixed or if the owner is a senior citizen.

About 48,000 dogs in the county are registered, a number the county believes accounts for less than 20 percent of dog owners.

Dogs older than 4 months must have a license and renew it every year under Michigan law.

Macomb County also offers the option of buying two-year licenses and both Oakland and Macomb counties have a three-year option. The tag must be displayed on the dog’s collar whenever it leaves the house, Gatt said.

On a recent day, census workers Craig Marshalek, 21, of Troy and Kheyahn Pickens, 24, of Detroit knocked on doors in a northern Troy subdivision.

Animal control officials said it’s important to go to every house that doesn’t have a recorded dog license because the compliance with state licensing requirements is so low and the county wouldn’t know a house has a dog unless they check — even if it means going to numerous houses that don’t have a dog.

By almost noon, they had issued one courtesy citation. Owners are given three weeks to obtain a license before the visits are stepped up: a visit by an animal control deputy and a second citation that sends the delinquent dog owner to court. The amount of the fine issued in court is up to the judge’s discretion.

Some residents balk at being handed a citation. Others take it in stride, the census workers said.

“Some people are talkative and kind, and others don’t want to be told what to do even though it’s been state law for almost 100 years,” Marshalek said.

Animal control officials in Macomb County don’t perform a dog census. Jeff Randazzo, Macomb County’s Chief Animal Control Office, said that he wishes his county did a dog census, but they don’t have the budget for it.

“I think it’s important that ... as animal control that we advocate for a higher compliance rate,” Randazzo said. “It’s important that a dog is given a rabies vaccination because the dog is often in situations where they could be made susceptible to rabies ... we (ensure the dog is vaccinated) through licensing.”

Gatt also emphasized the importance of licensing in helping to prevent the transmission of rabies. Dogs cannot be licensed until their rabies vaccinations are up to date or have received a waiver from their veterinarian for health reasons.

“I’m thankful that there isn’t any rabies to speak of in the state and I would give a lot of the credit for that fact to animal control officers,” Gatt said. “I think most owners are responsible enough to get a rabies vaccination for their dogs, but I don’t know that because they aren’t licensed.”

A century ago, the risk of getting rabies from a dog bite was a significant public health issue. In the past 20 years, only three dogs in Oakland County have tested positive for rabies, and there has been no reported instances of humans getting rabies from a dog bite, according to the Oakland County Health Department.

“In the last 100 years, we have almost eradicated rabies by dogs,” Gatt said.

An added benefit, Gatt said: A license will help reunite people who have lost their pet.

“If the dog is found anywhere around the country, an Oakland County dog license is a clear path to bring the dog home,” he said.

Amanda Hess, 30, of Clarkston owns two dogs and said she abides by the licensing law.

“When my dogs meet other dogs with a license, it’s a comfort to me that they don’t have rabies,” Hess said. “It’s easy and it’s cheap and it’s kind of a no-brainer.”


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Dog license fees

Since this year’s May 31 deadline has passed, Oakland County residents who purchase a 2016 dog license are considered “delinquent” and have to pay $30. Starting this December through May 31, 2017, residents will be able to purchase dog licenses for the next year at a reduced price:

■$7.50 for residents who register dogs that are spayed or neutered

■$6.75 for residents 65 and older who register dogs that are spayed or neutered

■$15 for residents who register dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered

■$13.50 for residents 65 and older who register dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered

Residents can purchase a dog license from many veterinary offices, their local city hall or at the county’s Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center in Auburn Hills.

Source: Oakland County Animal Control