Should Kitsap County be Licensing Pets?May 22nd, 2010 by Chris Henry
Kitsap County Auditor Walt Washington called me after my article on pet licensing ran on Wednesday. Kitsap County is taking over the responsibility of issuing animal licenses from the Kitsap Kitsap Humane Society, with which the county contracts for animal control services.
The county auditor’s office has been helping the Humane Society with walk-in applicants. Having the county assume all applications would be a logical step, said Washington, since they are already set up to process other types of licenses.
Washington, who was quoted from an earlier article as saying pet licensing is a potential source of revenue for the county, wanted to clarify that said revenue, now at about $100,000 per year, offsets the cost of animal control, about $535,000 per year, for which the county would be responsible, regardless of who issues the licenses.
The auditor’s office had proposed it could take on the work the humane society had been doing, but it would have to hire a half-time staff person. At the commissioners’ request, Washington also offered an alternative in which the county would get more aggressive about promoting pet licensing.
Right now, only about 11 percent of pets in unincorporated Kitsap are licensed. That’s better than the national average of 3 to 5 percent, said Humane Society Executive Director Sean Compton.
The outreach effort, in which the county would partner with vets and pet stores to educate people about pet licenses, would have generated more revenue to offset animal control costs. But to carry it out the auditor’s office would have needed an additional staff person, and the total cost would have been about $137,000 per year, which the commissioners deemed too expensive.
For now, they are using a DCD staff person, adding back 10 hours of her position that were cut for budget reasons. The auditors office, which handles elections and all of the county’s licensing, was not similarly cut and so that option wasn’t available. Auditor’s staff work 39 hours a week.
The county is not taking walk-ins at this time.
I was surprised to learn that six counties in Western Washington do not require pet licensing at all. That and the 11 percent participation rate got me wondering about a system that appears to be so inconsistent. Walt said that was the idea behind the “beefed up” version. The goal would be to make pet licensing less haphazard, and by the way generate adequate funding for animal control.
How big of a problem is animal control in unincorporated Kitsap? It’s mainly a problem in Silverdale, the major population center said Washington, who was manager of animal control in King County for three years.
Washington and I got into a kind of philosophical discussion on animal licensing. Aside from the glaring inconsistency with which licensing is enforced, there seems to me to be a larger question, “Why should responsible pet owners — and those who get licenses for their pets generally are responsible, Washington said — carry the ball for people who don’t get their animals altered and allow them to breed indiscriminately, or those who let their pets roam and make a nuisance of themselves?” I asked.
“That’s the way government works,” Washington said. “Someone’s always paying for those who are irresponsible.”
Take the county’s law and justice functions for example, which eat up 70 percent of the county’s budget yet involve a small fraction of the population (except as the general public is protected by law enforcement and courts). Animal control is much the same, Washington said. “We wouldn’t need government if everyone did the right thing.”
Now there’s a quote suitable for framing.
So what do you think? Should the county:
a. Maintain the status quo on animal licensing.
b. Beef up its efforts to get all pet owners in unincorporated areas to license their pets.
c. Do away with animal licensing altogether.
d. Push for microchips, which provide a life-long method for identifying lost pets.
Chris Henry, reporter