Summit County dog owners — or at least the few who take the time to buy a license — will see the cost increase by $4 beginning in December because of improved services, reductions in state funding and changes in state law that added costs.
Fees will increase 29 percent from $14 to $18 and kennel fees will rise from $50 to $80 for people with five dogs or more to make up a $200,000 deficit at Animal Control.
Only about one in three dogs is thought to be properly licensed, which contributes to the financial problem.
After harsh criticism, Summit County made significant changes in operations in the last several years to improve conditions and keep more animals alive.
“We opened the new facility, we have a full-time vet, we are vaccinating animals and spaying and neutering every animal that comes through the door. Spaying and neutering was a huge deal. We were part of the problem. Now we aren’t,” said Craig Stanley, who oversees the operation of Animal Control as director of administrative services for County Executive Russ Pry.
And the state, he said, has made things more difficult.
“The cuts in local government funding have been devastating. They have taken millions and millions of dollars from the county in the middle of a recession,” Stanley said.
The state, which mandates the licensing, changed the rules this year, requiring the county to offer three-year and permanent licenses. The three-year rate will be $54 and a permanent license, based on a 10-year life expectancy, would cost an owner $180.
Information technology employees in the fiscal office are writing new software programs to accommodate the new payment options and send renewal letters at the appropriate times.
“The gauge of the steel used to make the tags will have to be stronger so they last three years or for the life of the animal,” he said. “The tags must be color-coded to determine how long the tags are valid and annual license renewal letters will have to reflect the changes.”
“I just see it as another unfunded mandate from the state,” said Stanley.
Summit still competitive
Even at the new rate, Summit County residents will pay less for a dog license than people living in Ohio’s six largest counties, where the average price of a license is $21. Residents in nine other counties already pay $18 per license and many are increasing their fees in December, said animal control director Christine Fatheree.
A Beacon Journal comparison with counties of similar size showed that Dayton’s Montgomery County charges $24 for a license for an unaltered dog. Toledo’s Lucas County charges $25 for the same.
Animal Control’s annual budget of $820,800 comes from the sale of licenses, animal adoptions, kennel fees and services offered to the public, including reduced euthanasia prices for county residents. The shelter has not seen a budget increase in five years.
“The price of medicines and food for the animals continues to climb,” Fatheree said.
And Stanley added that with a much larger, state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2010, utility costs have risen sharply. Animals are kept in larger, easier-to-clean cages that cause less stress on adoptable animals.
And he said, changes in the county’s philosophy on animal care and a better working relationship with local animal rescue groups are all reasons the shelter is now offering better services.
More dogs saved
According to a 2012 Columbus Dispatch investigation, Summit County has almost doubled the rate of animals it saved last year with a 81.2 percent live rate. Montgomery County was listed with a 42 percent live rate and Lucas County’s live rate was slightly better at 43.3 percent.
In 2012, the county found homes for more than 2,200 stray and homeless animals, 546 more than it did in 2008, just before the last increase in license fees.
Not one adoptable dog, described as a healthy and friendly animal that is not a pit bull or any other animal singled out in Akron and several other Summit communities’ vicious dog laws, has been euthanized in more than four years, Stanley said.
The 18.8 percent of dogs that are euthanized are animals owners have surrendered to be put down, sick and elderly dogs, or vicious-tempered animals. Since the state dropped breed discrimination from its vicious dog laws, the county has offered more friendly bully-breed animals for adoption. Potential owners in communities that haven’t dropped the language from their laws must be able to show they comply with strict ownership laws.
Because about two-thirds of the dogs in Summit County are unlicensed, it will be the people who comply with the law who pay the price.
The Beacon Journal estimated there are about 122,000 dogs in Summit County, based on a calculation provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Last year, only 40,116 were licensed.
The situation is not much different than it was four years ago, when the county was building a new state-of-the-art animal shelter and increased license fees from $8 to $14. In 2009, more than 100,000 dogs in the county were believed to be unlicensed.
If the estimated 80,000 missing dogs were properly licensed, the county could realize an additional $1.4 million.
Authorities say a push for better enforcement is unrealistic because of cuts in state aid and the economic downturn.
The county’s two animal wardens answer as many as 10 to 15 calls a day throughout the county, make court appearances and are required to keep up with paperwork each day.
“It makes it difficult to get out there to do [license] enforcement,” said Stanley.
Licenses get priority
An owner whose licensed dog ends up at the county shelter can expect preferential treatment. Employees will attempt to contact the owner through its tag number, the dog will be held for 14 days before it is evaluated for adoption (three days for unlicensed dogs) and it will get the medical attention it needs.
“If the dog has a license, our wardens can look it up immediately and notify the owner before the animal has to go through the stress of being picked up, put in a car and brought down to animal control,” said Fatheree.
In 2011, the county’s fiscal office launched a searchable database that owners of licensed dogs may use to find missing animals at fiscaloffice.summitoh.net/index.php/dog-licensing/dog-search.
“Not many people know about it, but there is an actual link on our website where people could post a photo of their lost pets,” said Jack LaMonica, Summit County fiscal office chief of staff.
The link is fiscaloffice.summitoh.net/index.php/dog-licensing/sc.
The public soon will be able to use the fiscal office’s Facebook page to search for missing pets, LaMonica said.
On the web, compare Ohio’s euthanasia rates by county at www.dispatch.com/content/flash/2012/10/19/dog-shelter/dog_shelter.html.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.