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New dog licensing system means longer stays in the Jefferson County shelter

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dogs are waiting longer for redemption and adoption at the Jefferson County Dog Shelter under the new dog-licensing system.

“Dogs are staying up to 12 days here,” dog control supervisor Todd L. Cummings said. “A lot of people work Mondays through Fridays, when the clerks are open. So the number of dogs keeps the shelter filled to capacity.”

The longer wait could mean more in charge-backs to the towns at the end of the year for dog control. Mr. Cummings didn’t know yet how much more cost, if any, the department has incurred because of the change.

“There has been no more cost to the owner, but that’s in the stages now where we have to take a look at it,” he said. “There will have to be more cost to the owner or the towns. Right now, we charge $15 for board, no matter how long the stay. If they’re staying 11 days, that’s less than $1.50 per day.”

The reason dogs sit in the shelter longer is that owners frequently must make multiple trips to the town clerk’s office in their town of residence. In January, the towns in the county took responsibility for licensing dogs, a task previously led by the state with licenses issued through the towns and counties. Jefferson County used to hand out licenses to those who adopted or retrieved the dogs after they were picked up by a dog control officer. The towns wanted sequential numbering, so they passed laws excluding the county from licensing.

By state law, the county dog shelter isn’t allowed to release dogs to their owners for redemption unless the dogs have up-to-date rabies shots and licenses. So for dog redemptions, if owners have verification of current rabies shots and a license, they can pick the dog up immediately. If only a license is late, they can get that from a municipal office and pick up the dog. But if the rabies vaccine also needs to be updated, the owner must go to the shelter, verify ownership of the dog and pay for the rabies shot, use the rabies information to obtain a license from the proper municipality and then pick up the dog using the license.

“For the most part, 85 percent of the dogs are unvaccinated and unlicensed,” Mr. Cummings said. “So this affects 85 percent of the people.”

The county rarely has ticketed anyone for failure to license, which brings a $50 fine to the owners, because “we want people to come and bail their dogs out,” he said. And that’s the reason he’d like to avoid putting more cost on the owners at all.

But clerks believe the new system is working well.

“I haven’t had any complaints,” said Mary C. Smith, who chairs the Jefferson County Tax Collectors/Town Clerks Association. Both residents and other clerks have not raised any issues.

New owners of dogs adopted from the shelter and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Jefferson County receive a 10-day permit to obtain a license from their municipality. Information on adopted dogs will be compiled by the county and sent to the municipality for follow up, if necessary.

Mrs. Smith said there have been no problems with new owners coming in.

“I had one or two that haven’t come in,” she said. “But then I contacted Fort Drum and they get them in here.”

The number of licenses she’s issued has increased from 537 at this time in 2010 to 797 this year.

“A lot of it is that post has put regulations on,” she said. “But owners are coming in with renewals, too.”

But Mr. Cummings said the redemption process has reduced the number of dogs that leave the shelter over the weekend, which was once the prime time for redeeming dogs.

“On Saturdays, it almost puts us out of business, and on Sundays, it puts us out of business,” he said.

And the slower redemption business also hurts adoptions.

“We’re seeing more euthanasia than previous years,” Mr. Cummings said.

In 2010, the shelter had a record low of 14 cases and so far in 2011, it has had 17.

“We’ve had some more aggressive dogs than in previous years,” he said. “They’re not eligible for adoption. It’s a very sad thing to load a dog for euthanasia.”

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