County seeks input on dog licensing

Following a public forum on the possibility of mandatory dog licensing in Archuleta County, the sheriff’s department says it will continue exploring the topic, with decisions on a licensing program likely to come by mid-summer.

“We’ll take comments into consideration, both pro and con,” said Archuleta County Undersheriff and Public Information Officer John Weiss. “What we need to do then is go back and come up with a more refined proposal. Based on comments from the phone and e-mail, this is a tough economic time to impose new fees.”

During the forum, Weiss, along with colleagues from the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs and county staff, floated the idea of imposing a $15 mandatory licensing fee. The fee, Weiss said, would assure the community that dogs are being properly vaccinated for rabies and would allow animal control offers and humane society staff “24/7” access to dog ownership information.

In addition, the licensing program would seek to encourage pet owners to spay and neuter their dogs, and to help animal control officers better track dangerous or aggressive dogs, or dogs that are repeatedly impounded for running loose.

“We researched over 12 different areas inside and outside the state. What we were surprised to find was there was a significant number of rural communities in Colorado that now require licensing,” said Robbie Schwartz, executive director of the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs.

Another facet of the program Weiss said, was to create a revenue stream that would help fund general animal control operations, including humane society staff’s handling of administrative tasks, such as maintaining the dog ownership data base.

According to the Archuleta County budget, the sheriff’s department is prepared to spend $168,710 for animal control in 2009 — $80,500 for personnel, $83,750 for “other professional services” and $4,460 for other miscellaneous operating expenses.

Archuleta County Finance Director Don Warn said the $83,750 for “other professional services” largely represents the contract amount between the Humane Society and the county for the society’s impoundment services.

Weiss said of that $83,750, roughly $78,000 goes toward the Humane Society, while the remainder is used to pay for boarding and treatment of lost and injured animals.

According to Schwartz, the society collects impoundment fees and those collections are returned to the county. In 2008, Schwartz said her agency collected $1,900 in impoundment fees which were remitted to Archuleta County.

Weiss said although the idea of a $15 license fee was proposed, he added, “It’s wide open right now. Nobody is locked into anything on cost.”

Based on public comment and the local economic climate, Weiss said his agency may consider a voluntary dog licensing pilot program with a fee less than the proposed $15. Although the particulars of a voluntary program have not been refined, Weiss said a voluntary program might entail mandatory licensing if a dog is impounded.

“Based on the economic climate, staff is leaning toward a voluntary program,” Weiss said. Although he emphasized that no decisions have been made yet, and the sheriff’s department would discuss the topic with the board of county commissioners and county administrative staff. In addition, Weiss said the sheriff’s department wants to hear more from the public.

According to Schwartz, the commissioners considered establishing a dog licensing program in 1996 but the topic never came before the board for a vote.

Schwarz said the last serious push for a dog licensing program came between 1999 to 2002 but that effort also faltered.

Weiss said about 12 percent of all calls to Archuleta County Combined Communications Center (dispatch) are dog-related.

To comment on dog licensing for Archuleta County, citizens can e-mail the sheriff’s department at sheriff@archuletacounty.org, or call 264-8430.

james@pagosasun.com