I want a dog license
Dog licenses have been required in the United States since settlements were large enough to breed conflicts between neighbors.
In his book “Pre-1900 Dog License Tags,” William J. Bone, D.V.M. wrote that dog licensing was first addressed in the U.S. during the 1700’s when several states passed laws desinged to control dogs and collect taxes to reimburse livestock owners for dog depredation. Dog licensing was first instituted in England at about the same time.
Of course dog catchers and dog pounds followed right on the heels of dog licenses, (though the first animal protection societies weren’t created until about a century later) and licensing provided revenue that helped support dog catching.
Back in the day, dog licenses cost money but they also sometimes offered certain priveleges and protections. According to Diane Bandy in Indiana Dog License History:
A dog who was licensed in Indiana, had certain privileges of running at large and escaping a death sentence imposed by officials. A dog who ran at large, licensed and not bothering livestock was also protected legally. If someone shot a licensed, non provoking dog, they could be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined anywhere from $5-$50 along with liabilities to the owner for injury or death.
Sadly, the idea of combining certain priveleges (running politely at large) with specified responsibilities (staying out of trouble and wearing a tag that identifies you) did not gain much popularity. Over time, dog licenses became little more than a way to collect revenue and keep track of canine populations. And because license laws are notoriously difficult to enforce, scofflaws became the norm rather than the exception.
So much so that the national dog licensing system in Great Britain was abolished in 1987. According to a House of Commons Research Paper published in January of 1998:
The national dog licensing system, which was abolished in 1987, did nothing to contain the problems caused by irresponsible dog ownership since it had long ceased to command any public respect. Less than 50% of owners bothered to register. As a result, there is no evidence that the number of strays is higher since the abolition of dog licensing.
According to this article in today’s Star Tribune, thirteen years later some cities in Minnesota are following suit:
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.
A significant lack of compliance combined with the difficulty of enforcing license laws mean that dog licenses are becoming a net drain on finances in many areas. Advocates of licensing point out that license tags can provide a way to return lost pets to their owners but Altonen is quoted as saying that:
“In 17 years here, I can count on one hand the dogs we returned because of city tags. 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.”
Dog owners have historically been required to do little more than pay a fee and show proof of vaccination to license their pets. In exchange they’re received a shiny tag and a spot in the city database. Given the pathetic number of people who comply with license laws, most of us obviously see little value in that.
Why don’t dog licenses allow dog owners to do anything with their dogs?
A driver’s license gives you access to public roads. A concealed carry permit gives you the right to carry a handgun. But — someone who wants to drive a car or carry a concealed weapon has to pass a test to demonstrate at least a basic level of competence to earn that license.
Before you get your hackles up, I’ll say that I think that dropping the generic dog license requirement is a good thing. I don’t need a license to own a car, just to drive one on public roads. And I think that if municipalities want to institute revenue-generating programs that truly serve dog owners they need to reconsider what a dog license represents.
According to Merriam-Webster a license is:
1. the approval by someone in authority for the doing of something
2. the granting of power to perform various acts or duties
3. the right to act or move freely
Note that in all three cases a license is defined as granting the holder permission to do something. The problem with dog licenses is that they don’t function as “licenses” at all, they’re just an annual tax on dog ownership.
Dog licensing has become a way to collect revenue; a convenient tool to track data on pet ownership; and in some areas, a hammer to try to force compliance with vaccination, spay-neuter, breed-specific and other dog-related legislation. Since most people don’t license their dogs, I would assume that (despite what many try to tell us) these are not things most dog owers put a high value on.
I don’t think I should need a license to own a dog. But I’d like to have the option of getting a dog license that functioned a lot like a driver’s license. To get it I’d take a written test to demonstrate basic knowledge of dog safety and dog-related laws and then my dog and I would take a skills test to demonstrate our ability to navigate the community in a safe and sane manner. If I demonstrated my ability and willingness to accept specific responsibilities and passed the test, I’d get a license that gave my dog and I certain privileges (such as on and off leash access to specified areas) that unlicensed dog owners do not have.
I want a dog license – but I want it to be license that says my dog and I have demonstrated that we’ve earned the right to hold it.