BECAUSE POOR animal control affects every resident in this county, I would like to take the opportunity to clear several misconceptions about my proposal to license pets.
Pet licensing is very analogous to licensing and registering a vehicle. Most of us know that every vehicle in this country has a unique identification number or VIN etched into various parts of the car in order to assist the investigation of crime.
Automobile owners are required by law to register their vehicle and its VIN with the appropriate municipal agency, so the sheriff's department can hold people accountable for their actions.
The owner of that vehicle pays the municipal agency various fees and taxes in order to fund the cost of the licensing program and, in some cases, of maintaining roads. This elaborate and costly system is in place to protect our safety and our property.
WE HAVE DECIDED, as citizens, to give up a portion of our personal freedom to protect our safety and strive for order as a society. Without auto licensing those who speed, drive drunk, leave the scene of an accident or steal cars could not be punished.
My proposal for pet licensing is very similar. An innocuous microchip with its own unique number could be implanted under the skin of our pets as a form of permanent identification similar to the VIN. That microchip number could then be registered with the department of animal control just as you register your car's VIN with the licensing office.
The department of animal control would collect a user fee in order to pay for the cost of employees to register pets, update a database, mail reminders and other administrative costs.
I am proposing the fee be set at $7 per animal per year with a $35 to $50 cap for households owning multiple pets.
We, as a community, have very poor animal control because some pet owners refuse to take responsibility for their animals. Our current system allows 8,000 dogs and cats or more to be killed every year simply because their owners either did not know about or did not care enough to search for their lost pet at our shelter.
WE ARE KILLING animals at taxpayers' expense instead of punishing people and collecting fines.
Pet licensing is not just about passion for animal welfare. Ask those taxpayers walking through their neighborhoods with sticks and pipes to protect themselves from stray dogs how they feel about pet licensing and you might find supporters of pet licensing are not fanatical at all.
They are everyday citizens tired of living with poor animal control. Pet licensing creates a system to allow us to return missing pets to rightful owners, as well as to hold every owner equally accountable under the law.
With pet licensing, we will increase the cost of pet ownership and we will track down owners to extract fines and fees. We will force pet owners to vaccinate their animals against rabies; we will force them to pay for hospital bills incurred due to injuries caused by their pets and we will force them to compensate people for destruction of private property through pet licensing.
We will also force pet owners to pay for the cost of impounding, feeding, cleaning and caring for their lost pet at the shelter which is funded by taxes.
And, in return, every pet owner will be able to buy a large chunk of peace of mind for a small fee, knowing that a microchip, ID tag and current registration is a lost pet's ticket for a trip home, rather than a trip to the landfill.
IF YOUR PET'S life isn't worth $7 a year, you don't deserve the privilege of owning a pet - who asks for little more than shelter, food and love.
(Editor's note: The writer is the director of the Augusta-Richmond County Animal Control in Augusta.)