BATTLE CREEK, MI (September 27, 2018) – Battle Creek has required dog, cat and ferret owners to license their pets since the 1990s.
The city still only has a 4% compliance rate.
“We were selling just over 1,000 licenses a year, which you know there’s a lot more dogs and cats in the city than that,” said Battle Creek Police Lt. Doug Bagwell, who oversees animal control.
City officials are hopeful that compliance will improve come December when the city starts offering online licensing registration to pet owners.
The only way pet owners can now get a license is by going in person to city hall. Veterinarians used to sell the licenses, but many stopped because of the paperwork involved.
“That’s the biggest obstacle for people to register their pets, because it’s just not convenient,” Bagwell said.
But the convenience will come with a cost.
Since 2002, the cost to license a neutered animal has been $3 annually. With the adoption of online registration from a Canadian company called DocuPet, the city will up the licensing costs to $5 for one year and add the option for pet owners to purchase a $12 three-year license to coincide with the three-year rabies vaccination.
Animals found on the street that aren’t licensed or micro-chipped end up at the Calhoun County Animal Center on South Union Street.
The center sees about 2,400 pets annually: dogs, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs, etc. About 30% of the time, pet owners are found. Microchips, licenses or previous knowledge of the animal’s owner are how the pets typically get back home, said Cynthia Buford, owner of the center.
Dogs found running loose in the county or city and the owner cannot be located are taken to the Calhoun County Animal Center where they will be placed up for adoption.
Most of the animals who come to the center are not licensed.
“I think they [pet owners] get a new pet and they kind of forget,” Buford said. “I don’t think it’s with intent.”
A city ordinance requires animals that leave the center to be micro-chipped.The center recommends licensing and used to sell licenses but stopped.
“When the [DocuPet] system is fully operational, we will be selling licenses here,” Buford said. “It will help neighbors and us in being able to return animals to their owners.”
The city started requiring ferret licenses in 1995 and dog and cat licenses in 1999. Licensing validates that the animals have their rabies vaccinations. It’s also used to find the owner of a lost pet.
It was Animal Control Officer Eden Ross who suggested to Bagwell that the city consider other licensing options to make licensing pets more convenient and increase compliance.
At the Sept. 18 City Commission meeting, commissioners considered a resolution to up the cost to $8 for a one-year license and offering a three-year license at $21. Ward 4 Commissioner Chris Simmons proposed reducing the cost to $5 and $12, which the other commissioners ultimately approved.
In comparison, the Calhoun County licenses are $13.50 annually for a spayed or neutered dog and $38.50 for a three-year license.
Licensing fees go to cover the city’s animal control. In 2017, the city received $5,422 from animal license fees. The cost of animal control operations that year was $380,237.
If a city pet owner doesn’t have a license, animal control first issues a “fix it” ticket.
“You have 10 days to go purchase that license and then there will be no fines and costs,” Bagwell said.
The city’s fine for not having a pet license is $60.
The city pays no upfront cost to establish a system with DocuPet but will pay $2 for every license. After DocuPet sells more licenses than the city typically has in the past, there’s a yearly performance fee for each license sold, typically 50% of the license fee.
“Our job is to work with communities to increase licensing clients, and we do so largely by providing more value to pet owners and tools to municipalities to make it work better,” DocuPet CEO Grant Goodwin said.
DocuPet, established in 2014, works with 28 Canadian municipalities and two in the U.S.: Syracuse, New York and Battle Creek.
“Licensing is extremely important, because pet identification is a major issue in that 1 in 3 pets becomes lost at one time in its lifetime,” Goodwin said.
On the DocuPet site, pet owners will be able to upload their pet’s rabies certificate from home and create a profile about their pet. A tag with a unique code will be mailed to the pet owner. If a pet is lost, pet owners can create a lost pet report on DocuPet, which sends out an alert to those who sign up. DocuPet will also be notified and will contact local shelters about the missing pet.
“We do everything we can to get that pet home,” Goodwin said.
With DocuPet, animal control officers will have access to information about the pet even if city hall is closed.
“With this system, [officers] would be able to log in right in the car and find out who that dog or cat belongs to,” Bagwell said.
Mary Lou Ramon, a former city commissioner and owner of two licensed dobermans, Clotaire and Celeste, was the only person to speak out against the city contracting with DocuPet at the Sept. 18 meeting.
“Until our animal control starts enforcing the ordinance about having licenses and issuing tickets for people who don’t license their dogs, you are not going to sell more,” Ramon said.
DocuPet says, in some of the cities, the system has doubled compliance year over year.
Dr. Gary Ellis, a semi-retired veterinarian at the Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic, who has a license for his Brittany spaniel, Toby, thinks local vets will love the system.
Dr. Gary Ellis, a local veterinarian, his wife, Patti Ellis, and their dog Toby.
Licensing is “absolutely important,” Ellis said, while walking Toby at Riverside Park.
“There’s so many dog attacks and dogs running loose. It just makes people responsible.”
The revenue generated from the licensing sales will a “good resource” for the city’s animal control, added Patti Ellis, his wife.
“We need those resources because there always seems to be a shortage of those,” she said.
Battle Creek Resident Joe Bailey makes sure his two pit bull-Rottweiler mixes, Optimus and Razor, have everything they need from shots to treats, but he does not have dog licenses. He sees licensing as just a way for the city to get more money.
“Unfortunately, the money doesn’t go where it really needs to go, I don’t think,” he said.
In addition to contracting with DocuPet, the city is now looking at ways to better educate the public about licensing.
“They know they are supposed to get their animals vaccinated for rabies, but they probably don’t realize they are also supposed to get a pet license,” Bagwell said.