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Commonwealth's Counties

Work group considers alternative approaches to Companion Animal Licensing

According to Hanover County Treasurer Scott Miller, the County receives about $80,000 in revenue from dog license fees. Around 75 percent (approximately $60,000) covers administrative expenses associated with managing the dog licensing program. The remainder, about $20,000, is allocated for Hanover County’s animal control activities. Most of the funds for animal control in Hanover County are derived from general revenues. According to Miller, the state needs to help localities find more efficient ways to enforce companion animal licensing requirements.

By law, local governments are mandated to require dog owners to acquire licenses. The maximum dog license imposed by localities may not exceed $10, and it cannot be less than $1. (Section 3.2-6528 of the Code of Virginia.) According to information from the Department of Health, a large number of dog owners fail to obtain licenses. In fact, the average compliance rate among local government residents in acquiring dog licenses is about 57 percent. The low compliance rate, combined with the nominal amount localities may charge residents, produce very little of the funding needed to support animal control operations.

In attempts to improve local companion animal licensing rates, the 2006 General Assembly passed HB 339 (Orrock). This was a bill that required licensed veterinarians to forward to local treasurers information documenting the rabies vaccination for dogs. When receiving this information, the treasurer is then required to send a bill for the dog license to the owner. In recent years, some treasurers have raised concerns about the administrative burdens associated with the notification of dog owners, especially when the return for their efforts are so minimal.

In response to concerns expressed by the Treasurers, the 2016 General Assembly passed HJR 160 (Orrock), which requires the Virginia Department of Health (VDH)  to review Virginia’s companion animal licensing procedures and “assess the feasibility of establishing a statewide system for recording rabies vaccinations and licensing that may include a statewide database of licensed companion animals that can be remotely accessed by animal control officers in the field.”  In undertaking this study, VDH was directed to convene a work group consisting of stakeholders. The work group is made up of about 20 members, consisting of animal control officers, local treasurers, representatives from animal welfare organizations, agricultural interests, and local government.

Some of the work group discussions have involved the concept of one-stop-shopping where dog owners will be able to have their pet licensed and vaccinated in one transaction. Perhaps this may even allow for the rabies certificate to actually serve as the dog license.

To date, the work group has held three meetings, with the most recent one taking place on June 14 when several presentations were made about approaches to dog licensing that have been adopted by the other states. Future work group meetings are scheduled for July 18, August 15 and September 9. VDH is required to submit a final report to the General Assembly by December 1, 2016.

VACo Contact: Larry Land, CAE

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