Jackson County Animal Control officials hope that by closely tracking rabies shots they can encourage more dog owners to license their pets — and allow the county to collect more fees to support the department.
Under new language proposed for an animal control ordinance, veterinarians would be required to report rabies vaccinations of dogs to the Jackson County Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees animal control, within 60 days. Based on those reports, officials would send letters to owners of unlicensed dogs, reminding them that state law and a county ordinance require all dogs older than 6 months to be licensed and vaccinated against rabies. A license application also would be sent.
Animal control officials presented the proposed change to the Board of Commissioners at Tuesday's work session.
Jackson Baures, division manager for Jackson County Environmental Public Health, said the change could boost licenses in the county and revenue for animal control. It would also mean reduced lengths of stay at the pound and quicker reunions of lost dogs with their owners, county officials said.
"If you have a license, we're going to get your dog back to you," Baures said.
It's estimated about 41 percent of dogs are licensed countywide, but officials acknowledge the percentage is probably lower because they do not know the actual number of dogs in the county.
Licensing fees provide about $443,000 in annual revenue, about one-third of the department's total budget.
"Licensing revenue is critical," Baures said, adding Multnomah and Lane counties each saw its licensing revenues more than double after passing similar ordinances in 2007 and 2005, respectively.
For neutered dogs, licenses cost $20, $35 or $49 for one-, two- or three-year licenses, respectively, according to the Jackson County website. For non-neutered animals, it's $30, $53 or $75. The county handles licensing for all dogs in the county, whether they are in a city or a rural area.
Animal control officials said they have encountered resistance to the proposed change from local veterinarians, who have voiced concern about privacy infringement and a worry that rabies vaccination numbers could drop. A dead fox that attacked a cat in the Applegate and tested positive for rabies last month put the health issue back in the spotlight.
"I think that we do have to be very concerned about not vaccinating for rabies in our area, especially with the recent cases of rabies in Jackson County," said Dr. Danna Catt of Pear Blossom Veterinary Clinic in Medford. "I think that anything that deters people from coming to the vet to get the rabies vaccine is an issue."
A letter sent out to area veterinary clinics requesting feedback on the ordinance garnered 32 responses, only one of which favored the proposed ordinance change.
"I understand where the county's coming from," Catt said. "(But) from our perspective, I kind of agree that it's a little hard for me to be a tertiary enforcer of it. That part's a little hard for me."
Baures said he believes mailing a letter respects pet owner privacy more than the old practice of animal control officials going door to door, checking up on unlicensed animals. He added Multnomath County veterinarians also opposed a similar ordinance when it was first proposed, but have since switched their position.
County officials don't plan to follow up the letters with enforcement until after a year, when the ordinance would be assessed for its effectiveness. After that, people who received letters but didn't license their dogs could face fines.
Commissioner Don Skundrick said a drafted ordinance probably wouldn't be voted on until early 2013, following a board order to prepare the ordinance, first and second readings, and a public hearing.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at email@example.com.