Communities feel bite of uncollected dog fees
Freddy Miceli, 50, of Bridgewater obeys the law. His puggle, Bustah, is licensed, and the dog’s vaccinations are up to date.
But 1,000 of Miceli’s fellow residents have not gotten their dogs licensed — and so the cash-strapped town has been cheated of some $35,000, town officials say.
Bridgewater is not alone.
Across the region, in Brockton, Middleboro, Raynham and elsewhere, communities are losing thousands of dollars in uncollected dog license fees and late fines — at a time when they face a budget crunch that is getting worse as the Wall Street mess trickles down to Main Street.
Communities need every dollar they can get, but lenient policies or inadequate manpower to enforce them make it mighty difficult to go after dog-license scofflaws, officials say.
“There’s no teeth to the law,” Middleboro Town Clerk Eileen Gates said about her town’s dog-license policy.
Under state law, dog owners must license their dogs annually, showing proof of rabies vaccination.
Dog licenses help cities and towns keep track of the vaccinations, and help to reunite lost pets with their owners by having the dog tag on the animal.
Dog license fees are not small change.
Brockton, for example, has an estimated 15,000 unlicensed dogs, Animal Control Officer Tom DeChillis said. With a license of $6 for spayed or neutered canines ($15 if they are not), the city is being cheated of at least $90,000 in license fees alone. That’s money that could pay for a couple of teachers.
And, “that’s probably on the conservative end,” DeChillis said last week.
The city also lost money in uncollected fines.
Brockton issued $70,575 in fines that included dog licensing and other animal violations in fiscal year 2008. Of that amount, more than 50 percent, or $37,175 in fines, was not paid to the city, DeChillis said.
In Raynham, there are 453 unlicensed dogs, said Animal Control Officer Fred Sylvia. With the license fee set at $10 for neutered dogs ($15 for unaltered), and a $25 fine charged to delinquents, the town is losing out on at least $15,855.
Middleboro has a more lenient dog license policy than some towns, not taking deadbeats to court, which might explain why unlicensed dogs outnumber those licensed.
Out of some 3,000 dogs in town, 1,433 dogs are licensed so far this year — down from 2,523 last year, said town clerk Gates.
With a license fee of $10 for altered dogs ($15 for unaltered), and a $10 late fee, failing to collect on those 1,567 unlicensed dogs means Middleboro is out a minimum of $31,340 in fees and late fines for this year alone.
Middleboro used to take dog delinquents to court, but now sends out only reminder notices, Gates said.
“That’s as far as it goes,” she said. “It just remains unpaid.”
Some communities say they don’t have the manpower in town to crack down on scofflaws so they may turn elsewhere for help.
Bridgewater Town Clerk Ronald Adams said officials are going to send out one more warning notice and then will consider calling in a collection agency or the sheriff’s department to get delinquent dog owners to comply and pay up.
Based on the $10 license fee for altered dogs and a $25 late fee, the town is losing out on at least $35,000 by not extracting fees and fines from its 1,000 deadbeat owners.
Adams said delinquents also would be assessed collection costs.
Right now, however, Adams said his priority is processing voter registrations and absentee ballots for the presidential election.
“It’s probably going to go on the back burner until after Nov. 4. We’re too busy with limited staff,” he said.
Enterprise staff writer Maria Papadopoulos contributed to this story.