Dog control ramped up their pursuit of unlicenced pooches as 2015 came to a close by making house calls and slapping pet owners with hefty fines.
The Regional District of the Central Okanagan’s new approach was introduced to West Kelowna resident Caitlin Gilmore the hard way last month, when a bylaw officer showed up on her doorstep and gave her with a $300 fine, no questions asked.
“The dog was in the house barking, because that’s what dogs do when people come to the door,” said Gilmore. “My boyfriend was standing outside and they just came up to him, handed him a ticket with the fine and walked away.”
He had just moved in, so he was a bit disoriented by the interaction, Gilmore said.
The reason for the house call was that Gilmore had licensed her small terrier-cross the previous year, so the regional district had her address on file. When the bylaw officer heard the dog bark, he had all he needed to issue the fine.
It’s a lot more than it would have been simply to renew. It’s $20 to licence a neutered dog and $60 for an un-neutered pooch. Gilmore knew it wasn’t a significant cost, and maintains she let the license lapse because she’d simply not thought of it.
“A $300 fine is outrageous. When I called to ask if there was anything I could do, they said no,” she said, adding the regional district did allow her to pay the penalty on a payment plan.
“I didn’t mean to not renew…. between Christmas and planning a vacation, I just forgot.”
Gilmore is not alone.
There are an estimated 30,000 dogs in the Central Okanagan, according to the regional district..
Around 21,000 of them were licensed in 2014, but by the time 2015 rolled around that number had dropped off, and 2,400 licenses weren’t renewed for 2015.
In November, the Regional District announced they were going to ramp up their efforts to get the 11 per cent who hadn’t paid the fee.
So far, said Bruce Smith, Communications Officer for the regional district, bylaw officers have visited about 900 of the 2,400 people who licensed in 2014 but didn’t renew in 2015 to update the status of the dog.
“We’ve found about half of the 900 visited so far no longer have a dog and didn’t let us know,” Smith said, in an email.
“I don’t know how many of the other approximately 450 people that do have a dog have received a fine but I know some of them have either renewed in person or online paying the late fee.”
They, unlike Gilmore, may have been able to dodge the heavy fine by simply not having the misfortune of being home when the bylaw officer appeared.
“If a person isn’t home when our Dog Control visits, a door knocker is left indicating we’ve visited and why and that we will have a follow up visit,” said Smith.
“If they renew before we return, they pay the license and late fee to renew. If they still have a dog and they don’t renew we will issue them a $300 ticket when we make contact.”
Smith has said in the past that they are pursuing unlicensed dogs so aggressively because it’s not fair to the dog owners who responsibly renew their dog’s license annually.
“It also impacts all taxpayers because license fees contribute to the cost of providing dog control services in the Central Okanagan,” said Smith.
The regional district’s dog control budget in 2015, said Smith, was $1,446,820.
This total covers an operations account of $1,096,820. Of note, last year two Dangerous Dog court cases under Section 49 of the Local Government Act for three dangerous dogs accounted for approximately $124,000 of that amount.
The budget also covers $258,000 in transfers to reserves and $92,000 to the SPCA for support of its adoption/spay-neuter/education programs.
Funding that portion of the district’s budget is taxation, which accounts for 53 per cent, or $768,089.
The rest comes from a fees of varying kinds that are growing in size.
Before the year came to an end, the regional district estimated it would bring in $40,000 from impounding fees in 2015. By the end of November 2015 they’d taken in $54,180 from impounding fees.
They’d also estimated approximately $50,000 would be generated from bylaw adjudication/tickets by November 2015, they’d received $69,241.
About $474,875 in revenue was expected to come from dog licensing fees, but up until the end of November they received $484,517 from licensing.
“The public awareness efforts and initiatives to promote Responsible Dog Ownership, licensing and its benefits and consequences of not licensing etcetera are working,” said Smith. “We’ve gone from just over 10,000 licensed dogs in 2010 to more than 21,200 in 2015.”