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County rabies policy boosts dog licenses

Veterinarians must report rabies shots under new Jackson County ordinance
 Posted: 2:00 AM March 26, 2014

An ordinance making it mandatory for veterinarians to report dog rabies shots to Jackson County is providing a boost to the number of licensed animals here.

"We were expecting to get a lot of push-back from people upset at us," said Barbara Talbert, Jackson County Animal Care and Control manager. "We've not gotten very much of that. We were surprised. We expected more. We see a little grumbling, but nothing really bad."

About 60 percent of the 7,557 dogs documented as having received a rabies vaccination in the past year were not licensed, according to data supplied by the animal shelter. The ordinance was passed in March 2013.

Dog licenses sold

in Jackson County

2010: 5,917

2011: 7,578

2012: 12,702

2013: 14,718

2014: 4,128 as of March 20

But while county officials say there is still some catching up to do, they're starting to see an uptick in dog owners applying for licenses compared to past years.

The county has called on only the larger clinics so far and will gather data from smaller vet operations in the future.

In 2013, Animal Control sold 14,718 dog licenses, up 16 percent from the year before. This year it's sold 4,128 as of March 20, and officials estimate they'll sell 18,000 by the time the year is out.

"We do feel like this is working," Talbert said.

It's also still a work in progress. Only about 40 percent of dog owners who received a noncompliance notice have purchased or renewed a license. Another round of notices will go out in April.

County officials said when the ordinance went into effect they would consider possible fines for noncompliant owners after assessing the ordinance's effectiveness in a year.

The county passed the licensing ordinance to collect more revenue and ensure that loose animals have a better chance of being returned to their owners.

Under the ordinance, veterinarians must report vaccinations within 60 days. Owners of unlicensed dogs are sent a letter with a license application by the county. Similar mandatory reporting laws exist in Klamath, Lane and Multnomah counties. Oregon law requires all dogs older than 6 months to be licensed and vaccinated against rabies.

Licensing revenue accounts for nearly one-third of the agency's budget, or about $443,000. One-, two-, and three-year licenses are available, which cost $20, $35 and $49, respectively. Unaltered animals can be licensed for $30, $53 or $75.

Some veterinarians spoke against the ordinance when it was proposed, saying the law might discourage owners from getting rabies shots for their dogs. A year later, vets say the ordinance has not affected the number of rabies shots.

"It's been received, I would say, well," said Dr. Liana Barron of All Creatures Animal Hospital in Eagle Point, which accounted for about 5,700 of the canine rabies vaccinations reported to the county.

"One or two, maybe out of all the rabies shots we've done, refuse to do the license."

Getting animals vaccinated is important to protect pets and their owners, said Barron, citing the potential for rabid animals in largely rural Jackson County.

"If your pet is exposed to a rabid animal and it's not current on its rabies vaccination, state law says you have to quarantine your pet for six months or you have to have it euthanized. That's devastating," Barron said.

Gail Colbern, of Greensprings Veterinary Service, said her smaller operation has not seen much of a change since the law's passage. Due to the county's gradual rollout, she has not yet been asked to submit the vaccination data she has been collecting. For the most part, her clients have gone along with the idea, though some were not thrilled with the change, she said.

"The problem that I had with the whole thing from the very beginning was not the work I had to do, but what the attitude of my clients would be," Colbern said.

She still believes the mandatory reporting could discourage some owners from getting the shots, which creates a potential health risk for unvaccinated animals and owners alike.

"We should be making every effort to get all dogs vaccinated for rabies," Colbern said. "By saying, 'Oh, we're going to get a few more dogs licensed by saying you have to report rabies vaccines,' seems, to me, backwards."

"I think we've got a system down," Talbert said. "We're trying to gently educate people. Right now our goal is just to get more people informed about licensing."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.


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