Tagging cats and dogs

January 01, 2003

IF BALTIMORE is anything like the average American city, its 257,000 households have a total of 171,050 dogs and 184,209 cats. But even though pets are supposed to be licensed every year, city owners have bought permits for only 9,410 dogs and a few hundred cats.

With the new year here, this is a good time for city dwellers to resolve to register their pets. Just the pet identification tag they get in return for the annual fee - usually $10 - makes it worthwhile.

"With new microchip technology, if a pet gets lost, we are very likely to find it," Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city health commissioner, says of the tags, which have only a register number but carry no name or address.

The tags are also helpful because they are granted only to cats and dogs that have current vaccination against rabies. Thus they reduce guesswork if a pet is involved in a biting incident.

It's puzzling why the city hasn't pushed permits harder.

The revenue potential alone is impressive: The city could raise $3.5 million a year if all pets were licensed. That money could be used to finance the Bureau of Animal Control, which responds to more than 26,000 complaints about cruelty each year, puts down thousands of animals and handles some 1,250 adoptions.

Excuses for weak enforcement are lame. Officials say residents should take the initiative in registering their cats and dogs; pet owners generally say nobody else seems to license their pets, so why should they?

Clearly, more Baltimore residents should register their pets. But the city should step up its efforts to make pet owners more aware of the requirement. A good starting point would be to make licensing part of the process of acquiring a pet, either through adoption or purchase.

Parts of the licensing law also should be revisited. For example, the requirement that anyone with more than two dogs and/or cats needs a multi-pet permit has kept owners of multiple cats, in particular, from licensing them. As a result, the city has issued fewer than 200 multi-pet permits. The city would do well to reconsider such rules.

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