Dog tags lag in Island County, Oak Harbor

A dog named Nym at the Oak Harbor WAIF shelter sports a dog license. - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
A dog named Nym at the Oak Harbor WAIF shelter sports a dog license.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

Many Island County residents are probably not aware that they are supposed to purchase licenses for their dogs, and for Oak Harbor residents, even their cats.

Not doing so means that runaway pets may be harder to return to their owners. And it means that the money isn’t being collected by local government.

Betty Kemp, the county’s general services manager, estimates that there’s at least 10,000 dogs in unincorporated areas of the county. Since only a small percentage of dog owners purchase licenses for their pooches, the county is missing out on thousands of dollars a year that could be used to offset the costs of keeping animals healthy and happy at the shelters.

County officials, shelter managers and animal control officers are hoping to change that, especially in the face of budget concerns. The county commissioners reduced the animal control budget — which funds the shelters and animal control officers — this year by 10 percent.

“It’s more important now than ever for people to go out and license their pets. You’re supporting you shelter and your animal control officer,” said Shari Bibich, shelter manager for Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation. The county contracts with WAIF to run the animal shelter.

The commissioners are holding a meeting with shelter managers and animal control officers on Feb. 10 to discuss ideas on how to increase compliance with the county code that requires all dogs to be licensed.

“There are so many people who loves pets in Island County,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said. “I think this is a place where people can feel like they are making a contribution to the welfare of animals in the county and help their own pet at the same time.”

Price Johnson said the first step is simply to raise awareness. She suggests that an email could be sent out to residents with the information about the dog tags. Also, she hopes to make it easier for people to renew licenses by allowing them to do it online someday.

Another idea, Kemp said, is to sell three-year licenses so that people don’t have to renew them every year.

Currently, dog licenses can be purchased at the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation shelters in Oak Harbor or south of Coupeville, at the county treasurer’s office in Coupeville and at any of four different veterinarian offices on Whidbey. The dog owner has to show proof that his or her doggy received a rabies vaccination.

Last year, just 1,370 dog licenses were purchased in the county.

It’s not a big expense. A license for a neutered dog is just $7 and it’s $25 for an unaltered dog. There’s a discount for seniors (people, not dogs).

Island County Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes routinely reminds dog owners involved in cases she investigates that county code requires dog licenses. She said failure to comply may result in a citation.

Licenses also help lost dogs find their way home. If a dog brought to a shelter has a license, the staff simply has to look up the owner and make a call.

With the cuts this year, the county will pay WAIF about $50,000 for running the animal shelter. The Camano Animal Shelter Association will receive about $27,000. Carol Barnes, the contracted animal control officer on Whidbey, will receive about $69,000 to run her program. The animal control officer on Camano Island gets about $44,000.

In addition to the county, officials with the city of Oak Harbor are also looking at ways to increase compliance with the city’s dog and cat licensing requirements. City Administrator Paul Schmidt said he will likely present the City Council with several ideas for getting more people to purchase pet licenses, which could include sending animal control staff out to dog-walking areas to catch unlicensed canines.

In Oak Harbor, a dog license for neutered dogs and cats is $10, while it’s $35 for unneutered dogs and cats.

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