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License your dog . . . And help pay for the Summit County animal shelter

By jim Published: March 6, 2009

Beacon Journal Editorial:

Summit County is going after the dogs. That's a good thing, because there are roughly 100,000 unlicensed canines in the county. About 30 percent of pet owners complied with the state licensing law last year, one of the lowest rates among urban counties. An analysis by Rick Armon, a Beacon Journal staff writer, found Summit has no marketing or educational campaigns. Enforcement is lax.

This year, dog owners will be able to buy licenses online with a credit card. That's helpful. On the enforcement side, a list of past license holders who have not renewed will be used for door-to-door campaigns by deputy dog wardens. Spot checks, so to speak, are being considered at events that draw animal lovers. Still, it is likely Summit County will have to consider other steps, drawing on what works in similar-sized counties.

It's not just a matter of encouraging responsible ownership of pets. Summit County taxpayers are providing a substantial subsidy from the general fund to operate the animal shelter. Out of last year's shelter budget of about $800,000, the county's general fund provided $230,000. Meanwhile, a new shelter is planned for a warehouse on Opportunity Parkway this year. Beginning in 2010, the county's general fund will carry the debt for the $3.9 million project, about $200,000 a year, for 20 years.

Lucas County provides an instructive example of how to boost compliance. Lucas, with a $25 license fee compared to Summit's $14, manages to achieve a 55 percent compliance rate. Besides door-to-door enforcement, Lucas relies on an aggressive marketing campaign. There are other, less costly, tactics. Montgomery County partners with veterinarians to spread information about licensing. In Stark County, workers are stationed at pet stores and groceries.

Summit County already funds an animal control manager and deputy dog wardens. If a compliance rate of 52 percent could be achieved using stronger enforcement and outreach, that could generate as much as $420,000 per year. At that point, dog owners would not only be taking personal responsibility for their pets, they would be shouldering the financial responsibility for running the animal shelter.

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