Columbia losing approximately $3.8 million in pet licensing violations

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COLUMBIA – With an estimated 53,148 unlicensed pets in Columbia, the city is losing $3,853,230 in pet licensing violations, according to a new report.

A Columbia ad hoc committee of veterinarians and Animal Controls workers said only five percent of the estimated 55,980 dogs and cats in the city are licensed.

The report prompted discussion during Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said the report insight into the committee's progress dealing with the issue.

"Right now, animal control is working with the business licensing office to make the animal licensing office more streamlined," Trapp said. 

He said the process needs to be smoother. 

According to the Direction Finder Survey for Columbia, out of the 509 pet owners who responded:

  • 67 percent said their pet had a current city license
  • 57 percent with unlicensed animals said they did not know a license was required
  • 32 percent said they didn’t think their pets needed a license
  • 4 percent said the price of the license and inconvenience in getting one is why they don't have one

City Ordinance 5-63 states failure to license your cat or dog will result in:

  • $72.50 for the first offense
  • $97.50 for the second offense

Trapp said some pet owners who don't have licenses view the license fee as a tax. He said animal licensing fees currently go into the general city fund.

"It's a tax that has little enforcement and so many people opt out of participating, so what we’d like to do is take any growth in animal licensing fees and direct them specifically to animal welfare programs, because animal lovers love animals and if they know their pet licensing fee is go to help animals, then they’re much more likely to participate voluntarily," he said. 

Trapp said there is little enforcement because Animal Control is too busy with other duties. 

"I don’t think they have a great deal of discretionary time to go out and do proactive enforcement," he said.

Columbia resident Brianna Walker said her dog is licensed because her veterinarian told her it's a city ordinance. 

"I feel like it’s a good thing to have just so, you know, the dog is safe and okay. Especially when you see those dogs at the Humane Society, it lets you know that the dog is okay, they have an owner and they are licensed by the city."

The report makes two recommendations: Educate pet owners on the benefits of licensing their animals and reduce the hassle and cost involved.

One idea offered included makings licenses free for a certain period of time each year.

One measure already implemented is adding "My Ticket Home. My Owner Cares" to the back of license tags as "a way of pointing out that loose animals are much more likely to be returned to their owners if they have licenses."