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City pound is too dogged about pet license fees

June 6th, 2003, 07:13 AM
City pound is too dogged about pet license fees

By By Ivan E. Coyote

A couple of weeks ago I came home to find that I had had a visitor that day. The dog catcher had left me a note.
Turns out that I owe them $34 for each of my dogs’ license renewal fees, and they had come around in person looking for their money. The notice went: “To: Dog Owner/Possessor/Harbourer: Failure to pay the said license fee within 3 days/72 hours, forthwith renders you liable to prosecution which may result in a minimum fine of $25.00 and a maximum of $2,000. NOTE: Unlicensed dogs may be seized.”
I knew already from the earlier notices I had received in January and March that I owed them money. I just didn’t have it. My little Goliath had started having epileptic seizures in the early spring, and between vet bills, medication, spring de-worming, and the fancy food he needs to eat now, I was broke.
The next day, I get a call from the Animal Control Branch reminding me of my reminder. I told the guy I didn’t mind him calling me every single morning until I could come up with his $68, just like Visa would, but didn’t he think that sending uniformed dog cops door-to-door to threaten fines and impounding my dog from my own house was a little over the top?
He calmly replied that any unlicensed dog could be seized from anyone’s house at any time by the Animal Control Branch of the City of Vancouver. He told me the only thing that legally gave me the right to own a dog was said license, which I owed them money for.
I began a long rant with regard to them going after folks who were at one time responsible enough to get a license in the first place, and when I stopped for a breath, the guy had already hung up.
So I marched down to the City Pound to talk to the big cheese about it. R.J. (Bob) Cristofoli is the Supervisor of Licenses and Inspections of Animal Control Services. He looks really good in his uniform, like a kind, sweet border cop. I liked him more than I wanted to. He had two dogs himself—both of them work he took home with him. Both were immaculately groomed and had licenses, address tags, and Canada-wide registry dog finder tags. The little guy rattled like a reindeer when he shook his head. Both dogs never took their eyes off of him. It was clear Bob loves animals, and animals love him.
According to Cristofoli, Vancouver boasts an estimated 60,000 dog owners. Eighteen-thousand dog licenses were issued last year, and 2,600 of those are currently in “renewal status” like mine. That leaves 42,000 dogs with owners who never licensed them in the first place.
Money received from licenses is used to offset their annual budget. In addition to operating a no-kill shelter and providing vet care for unwanted or lost dogs in our city, their services also include adoption, licensing, and private cremations.
“Of the 1,100 dogs we had through here last year, we only had to euthanize 15 very sick dogs, for humane reasons. That is 15 too many,” says Bob with fierce conviction. An almost blind, ancient poodle comes limping into his office. “Someone just dropped her off the other day. They don’t want her anymore because she’s incontinent. We’ll give her a happy home until it is her time.”
Still, didn’t the pound have any subsidies or provisions made for senior citizens or those on fixed or low income? Didn’t he think threatening to impound a person’s beloved pet if they didn’t pay was a kind of municipal extortion? A money grab, even? I told Bob I didn’t begrudge paying for a dog license at all, but their fundraising methods were all wrong. Poor people should be allowed pets, too.
I guess he doesn’t get that for a lot of us, a guy in a blue uniform who could take your dog showing up on your door looking for money is a little bit scary—especially if you happen not to have any on you. And why would he? He’s just a nice guy, doing his job.
Award-winning novelist Ivan E. Coyote lives in East Van with her pets Goliath and Déjà.