- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. (AP) — Bonnie Winstead’s poodle, Jackson, is off the grid: unlicensed and untagged.

“It’s my dog. It’s my business,” says Miss Winstead, who vaccinates her dog but objects to paying Spotsylvania County to license him.

“I don’t think I should have to pay a personal-property tax on my dog,” she said. “It’s bad enough I have to pay it on my car.”

Officials estimate that only one in five dogs in Virginia is actually licensed at an annual cost of $5 to $10.

Not licensing a dog is a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $250 fine. But enforcing the law is another problem.

A law passed by the 2006 General Assembly will make it easier for localities to track their canine populations.

The law requires veterinarians to forward information to their county treasurer on each dog vaccinated for rabies.

The treasurer then can see whether the dog is licensed. If not, the dog’s owner has 90 days to purchase tags for the animal before the treasurer sends a bill and a polite reminder.

The law takes effect in July 2007.

While Delegate Robert D. Orrock Sr.’s bill was separate from dangerous-dog legislation passed this year, it too was prompted by the death of Spotsylvania resident Dorothy Sullivan, who was mauled by a neighbor’s pit bulls in March 2005.

Because the three dogs weren’t licensed, authorities had difficulty tying them to Deanna Large, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Mrs. Sullivan’s death.

“If they’re not licensed, then there’s no legal trail in the event something happens with that animal,” Mr. Orrock, Spotsylvania Republican, told the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg.

“You can put all the penalties you want on the owner, but until you can prove who the owner is, how good are they? Let’s increase licensure compliance,” Mr. Orrock added.

Steve Escobar, a Henrico County veterinarian and an officer in the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, said his customers welcome the law.

“We think the majority of the lack of compliance is because of the inconvenience of going down to get a license,” Dr. Escobar said.

“The vast majority of my pet owners are thrilled to death that this is going to be so easy,” the veterinarian said.

Hanover County Treasurer M. Scott Miller said the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia hopes to make the process as painless as possible for all those involved.

“It’s going to generate some work. There’s going to be some sorting of paperwork, but I don’t think it’ll be overwhelming to anyone,” Mr. Miller said.

“I think the program will work well enough to increase compliance on the licensing side. Most of what is going on is a step in the right direction,” he added.

Still, Fredericksburg Treasurer Jim Haney worries about the workload.

“We’ve got too much work to do now,” he said. “It appears to me it’s going to be a lot of work. Until you get into this, you don’t know how much work it’s going to be.”

Bob Kane, president of the Virginia Hunting Dog Owners’ Association, called the law “extremely intrusive.”

Mr. Kane said he fears Mr. Orrock’s legislation paves the way for a statewide dog database that people could use to target certain breeds and their owners.

For instance, he said, some homeowner-insurance companies already won’t cover families with so-called bad dogs such as pit bulls or Rottweilers.

“I think the people supporting [House Bill] 339 had a much bigger agenda than just the sale of dog licenses. They wanted to track every dog and owner in Virginia,” he said.

The result, he said, will be that some people may avoid the veterinarian altogether so they don’t end up in the database.

“I’m confident of it. I just can’t quantify the degree to which it’ll happen,” Mr. Kane said.

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