The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

September 30, 2013

Multiyear dog licenses a new option for Ohioans

By Eric Lyttle
The Columbus Dispatch

— State lawmakers introduced a new kind of gambling this year: Allowing pet owners to roll the dice on how long their dogs will live.

Beginning Dec. 1, Ohio’s dog owners will have the option to purchase a lifetime license for Fido — at 10 times the cost of an annual license.

“If your dog lives for more than 10 years after you buy a permanent license, you’re ahead of the curve,” said Union County dog warden Mary Beth Hall.

Conversely, however, there are no refunds if a dog dies, and the tags aren’t transferable from one dog to another.

“It’s kind of a gamble,” Hall said.

In this year’s massive state budget bill was a section that legalized not only the lifetime dog licenses, but three-year tags as well. Officials say it offers a convenience for dog owners.

Failure to license a dog can bring a penalty. For example, in Franklin County, a first offense can mean a $150 fine; subsequent offenses can bring up to a $250 fine and 30 days in jail.

Most county dog wardens don’t anticipate selling many of the multi-year licenses. Not only is it a larger outlay of cash for the owner, but there’s no financial incentive for buying extra years.

“The multiple-year licenses do lock a fee into place, so if your county raises its fees next year, you get some benefit,” Hall said.

She’d like to see breeders buy lifetime tags for all of their puppies sold.

“Then you know your dog is in compliance throughout its lifetime,” said Hall, who also breeds dogs.

Each county sets its own fees for dog licenses. Most counties will charge three times the amount of its annual license for the three-year license, and 10 times for a permanent license.

In central Ohio, only Madison County will offer a discount for a multi-year license, charging $40 for a three-year license, which is a $2 discount off its $14 annual fee.

But what was intended as a convenience for dog owners could become an inconvenience for county auditors and dog wardens.

Until now, most county animal-control budgets were fairly easy to predict - the number of dogs licensed each year typically remained consistent.

Now, not only will the multiyear licenses impact the number of annual renewals, but counties also must find a way to save a little money from those long-term tags or face the prospect of dwindling revenue.

Todd McCullough was hired in August as Fairfield County’s dog warden. He’s trying to crunch numbers for next year’s budget, but it’s not easy.

“As of right now, it’s really hard to say how many people will buy the three-year or permanent licenses and what impact it will have on our annual budget,” he said. “If we don’t pay attention to how we allocate our resources, we’ll face diminishing revenue in years to come.”

Not surprisingly, many counties are foisting the cost of solving that new problem onto the pet owners.

Franklin County will increase its cost for an annual dog license next year to help offset the cost of incorporating the new licenses. Dog owners will pay $18 to license a spayed or neutered dog for 2014, which is $6 more than they paid this year. And if the animal isn’t spayed or neutered, the county will sock dog owners even harder, charging $35 for a one-year tag, up $11 from this year.

Franklin County is the only one in central Ohio that charges more for an animal that’s not spayed or neutered, but it’s not the only county raising rates.

In central Ohio, both Delaware and Pickaway counties will raise the price of an annual dog license. A one-year tag in Delaware County will go from $10 this year to $12 next year. Pickaway County also bumped its annual fee by $2, from $13 in 2013 to $15 next year.

Dog licenses will become available on Dec. 1. If not purchased before Jan. 31, the price doubles according to state law - unless a dog was born or purchased after February.

Ten cents of every dollar from the sale of dog licenses goes to Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine for canine research, which amounts to about $130,000 a year. The rest goes to that county’s animal-control unit.