Monday, July 19, 2010

Van Buren County Going Door to Door Checking Licenses

Authorities in Van Buren County, Michigan will begin going door to door, looking for dog license violations.

I know not everyone appreciates this method of improving licensing rates, but it has proven to be effective when done properly. I personally think it can be a great method of increasing compliance AND building good community ties. Again, when done properly.

For example, Kern County has seen a dramatic increase in licensing and after only six months of implementing their new program, they have paid it off for the year. Two staff members were hired to run the program. Door-to-door licensing checks and requests were organized around low-cost rabies clinics. The funds from the program pay off the staff members and the excess goes towards funding low-cost spay/neuter programs. People whose dogs are not licensed are NOT penalized the first time around. They are instead directed to the rabies vaccine clinics, given a license form to fill out, and given time. If they don't comply, that is when the citations are brought out.

Van Buren County should take a page from both Kern County and Calgary (a city that relies on door-door compliance). Right now, Van Buren County is planning on issuing citations to every person who has an unlicensed dog. The fines are up to a $100. This is not good business nor is it good public policy. We want people to like animal control. Further, we want people to continue paying their licensing fees. People are more likely to pay a $10-30 annual licensing fee than they are a $100 citation.

If a city wants to see an increase in licensing, here are a few proven suggestions:
* Make getting a license super easy. Calgary offers license forms everywhere, including the supermarket. They also do not require a rabies vaccination which is, unfortunately mandatory in most of the United States.
* Do not criminalize dog owners if their dogs are not licensed. Instead of issuing citations if a dog isn't licensed, provide low-cost options with a re-check requirement.
* Arrange rabies clinics in conjunction with door-to-door checks. And make sure those clinics are within a 15-20 minutes walking distance of those houses. Don't expect everyone to have easy access to transportation or a veterinarian. Make sure the rabies clinics are low-cost.
* Have a license form online.
* Arrange low cost spay/neuter clinics around the same time as door-to-door checks and encourage people to castrate their adult animals.
* And always, be friendly. These are your constituents, not your enemies or "problems". They are people who will surprise you with their willingness to comply with your law, if given a fair chance to do so.

Don't expect miracles. Calgary's success didn't happen overnight. Even though Kern County has paid off its program in six-months, it will take a much longer time to see a great increase in licensing compliance.

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