Are city dog licenses going the way of VCRs and film cameras? In an age when dogs sport name tags and personalized collars and have microchips injected between their shoulder blades, Golden Valley Police Chief Stacy Altonen thinks the answer is "yes."
Next month the Golden Valley City Council is expected to drop a requirement that residents license their dogs, joining Plymouth, Minnetonka, Brooklyn Center, New Brighton, Falcon Heights and Northfield in the no-license category.
Altonen said the city is simply dropping an ordinance that wasn't effective and that cost the city in staff time. Only about 600 dogs -- a fraction of the canines residing in Golden Valley -- were licensed each year.
"It's small money savings, but savings nonetheless," Altonen said. "We know that the majority of dog owners are noncompliant. Simply having an ordinance on the books doesn't strike fear in the heart of dog owners."
While most cities still require dog licenses, some big suburbs have gone the other way. Plymouth dropped licensing last year and Minnetonka did so in 2000. Barb Cox, the Plymouth Police Department's public information officer, said her city made the move to save money.
"In 17 years here, I can count on one hand the dogs we returned because of city tags," she said. "We return more dogs with microchips ... or because people call right away when they lose their dogs so when we find them we know who lost them."
'No fear to comply'
Many city dog license and leash laws date to the 1970s, when there was a rabies scare, said Cindy Johnson, director of customer service for the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley. City ordinances requiring licenses always include submission of proof that animals had been vaccinated for rabies.
But over time, Johnson said, "we recognized that enforcement isn't there."
"There's no fear to comply in the community," she said. "When you think about it, it's the people who are uber-responsible with their pets that get a license. Those are typically not the people who will have an animal running at large or have animals without vaccinations."
Rabies vaccinations have become so standard that it's rare to find a case in a companion dog, Johnson said. She said a collar with tags is still the best way to recover a lost pet, with a microchip as a backup if the collar falls off.
Cities that have dropped dog licensing have kept ordinances that require rabies vaccinations. Most also say dogs must have some other identification, like a current rabies tag.
Police departments keep scanners on hand that can read information on microchips and reunite dog and owner.
"That's much more efficient in identifying them if they break loose from a collar," said Brooklyn Center Police Chief Kevin Benner. "The return for all the work to get them licensed just wasn't that much."
Licenses still the norm
But most cities in the metro area continue to require licenses. In Maple Grove, licenses cost just $2 a year. The city hasn't talked about dropping them, said Police Chief Mona Dohman.
"We're not in the business of making revenue, so we don't look at whether it makes money or not," she said. She said the fee may be low to try to encourage people to get a license.
In Minneapolis, licenses are not cheap -- $30 a year for a neutered dog or cat, $50 for dogs and cats that are not sterilized and $200 for a lifetime license. Nor is the city backing away from a requirement to license pets.
In fact, it is renewing efforts to get people to license their pets, said animal control and care manager Dan Niziolek. In the name of what Niziolek calls public health and safety, the city is willing to slap those who don't bother to get a license with a $100 fine.
"If a dog is licensed, we know it's vaccinated for rabies," he said. "We have better identification of pets that are involved in aggressive incidents and can hold owners responsible using our dangerous-animal ordinance."
How license income is used
Minneapolis pet license income pays for city investigation of animal cruelty and violence and for vet treatment of stray animals hit by cars or otherwise hurt. It also goes to care for and adopt out animals at the city animal shelter. Perhaps most important to pet lovers, licensed animals are three times more likely to be returned to owners, Niziolek said.
Minneapolis residents who lose licensed pets that are found by the city don't have to pay an impound fee the first time the animal gets loose, and city workers will drive a licensed pet home for free.
"Given the benefits of licensing, we charge something that allows us to deliver some of the best animal care in the metro area, if not the state," Niziolek said.
Since 2006, almost 2,200 Minneapolis residents have bought lifetime licenses for their dogs or cats. But only about 10 percent of the estimated 100,000 dogs living in Minneapolis are licensed. Niziolek said the city aims to double that in the next year. That's one reason the city has ramped up license enforcement, citing owners when unlicensed dogs are caught off leash, running around at one of the city-owned dog parks or are involved in a call about a bite.
"There has to be a benefit to it, and a consequence to not doing it," Niziolek said. "The responsible pet owner creates the standard."
Minneapolis' intent to stick to licensing dogs doesn't necessarily mean city dogs will always have metal dog houses or fire hydrants dangling from collars.
"What does the pet license of 2020 look like? Maybe we'll get to the point where the microchip is the license," Niziolek said. "But it still comes down to our ability to know the animal is vaccinated."
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380