Police nab loose dogs, help write new laws

  • By Chris Fyall Enterprise editor
  • Friday, January 18, 2008 3:12pm

When city officials considered cat-roaming laws this past May, there was such wild and vitriolic disagreement that public hearings took hours and packets of summarized testimony stretched nearly 100 pages long.

Strangely, the one area of general agreement — cat leashes or no, the city should require licenses for all animals, citizens, police and lawmakers agreed — was never enacted.

That public inaction will likely soon end.

A recommendation soon to come before the City Council would create identical license fees for cats and dogs. It gives the council flexibility in setting those rates. The recommendation suggests the license fees should run between $18-20 per year for unaltered pets, or $5-6 for animals that have been altered.

The recommendation also suggests that licenses for animals with microchips be even cheaper.

In December, the city’s public safety committee — then headed by current council president Michael Plunkett — was updated on that progress. The issue could come before council next month, Plunkett said.

A cat license law, should it be enacted, would benefit an animal control department that needs it, said Debbie Dawson, currently the only employee in what is supposed to be a three-person animal control unit.

“I’m it. I’m the animal control unit,” Dawson said in a Dec. 31 interview.

Dawson controls two animal control trucks and a parking vehicle. She has to split her time between the cities of Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, which contracts with Edmonds for animal control services. After a short break, she can come back to 40 voice mails, and a kennel packed with multiple stray dogs and cats. She’s got to try and get each animal back to its owner.

She’s swamped, she said.

The department hired somebody recently who quit after three weeks. It started again in December looking for new animal control employees.

But, Dawson is looking to the new license laws for help.

Edmonds already returns way more stray animals than national averages, but if cats in the city have licenses it will be easier and quicker to return them to their owners, Dawson said.

Nationally, only 35 percent of stray dogs are returned to their owners. An infinitesimally small 1 to 3 percent of cats are returned.

In Edmonds, those rates rise to 80 percent of dogs, and 10 percent of cats, Dawson said. The city handles about 400 stray animals a year.

The return rate is something that Dawson, who sits on the board of directors for the National Animal Control Association, is proud of.

Still, Edmonds needs to get better, she said.

“It is a huge challenge to keep up,” she said, noting that the city license laws would encourage microchipping, which makes it easier to find their owners. “But we have to get more pets home.”

Licensing could make that happen, she said. The city is already working on an online licensing operation that would make it easier for pet owners.

If that plan comes through, Edmonds will move from behind the curve — with no cat licensing at all — to the front of it.

“We’ll get on board. We’ll be on par,” Dawson said. “But, we want to be one of those departments that people look to.”

Reporter Chris Fyall: 425-673-6525 or cfyall@heraldnet.com.

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