King County Warns Pet Owners: No More Barking, Just Bites

Starting Friday, no more warnings about licenses.

Last summer, King County's animal-control division was a mess. Critics accused the program of being slow to respond to cases of cruelty against animals and aggressive behavior by animals. The county was so strapped for funds that some council members talked about passing the animal-services business to a nonprofit. Ultimately deciding that wasn't possible, the county looked for other ways to fund the program. And if you have an unlicensed dog or cat, that could mean expensive news for you beginning this Friday. That's when the amnesty period ends for pet owners who don't have the $30 license, and a new "no-tolerance" fine kicks in. The policy affects pet owners in most parts of the county—excluding Seattle, which licenses pets separately. What license, you ask? You're not alone. Many pet owners are apparently unaware that the law requires them to license their pets. The county issued only 134,500 pet licenses last year, yet estimates some 540,000 cats and dogs reside in its domain, according to Christine Lange, a spokesperson for the county's licensing division. Until now, if the county caught you with an unlicensed pooch or kitty, it gave you a chance to correct your mistake before levying a $75 fine. Now, if you're caught, it's too late. You're subject to a fine of $125 (or $250 if you've committed the additional sin of not spaying or neutering). The policy is modeled on Seattle's, which also allows for no second chances. Of course, first the county has to catch you. There are animal-control officers who patrol parks and even go door-to-door. But Lange concedes that the officers, who concentrate on a specific section of the county each year, can only get to a fraction of pet-owning households. Seattle, by contrast, has been more aggressive. Though the city estimates it has about 25% fewer unlicensed pets than the county, it issued nearly twice as many fines as the county last year. As the amnesty period draws to a close, the county is pitching the upside of requiring licenses. Among them: When and if the time comes, the county will euthanize your licensed pet for free.

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