I don’t know how it is where you live but in my county in Florida (Miami-Dade), licensing your dog is a bureaucratic nightmare that makes my work far more stressful than it has to be. Here's their policy.

In the wake of annual licensing hassles my staff and I have been treated to a number of time-sucking, blood pressure-boosting stressors we could have lived without, courtesy of our incensed clients and Animal Services department. Here’s a short list:

  • I’ve been (most unfairly) accused of “colluding with the authorities” in creating overly restrictive and punitive laws pertaining to the licensing dogs.
  • My reception staff has been charged with incompetence.
  • I spend inordinate amounts of time explaining County policy (several times a day is not unusual).
  • The front desk must toil hourly on the task of sending annual reminders, keeping tags in order and get on the phone on behalf of pet owners who often receive citations in spite of our hospital’s proof of their compliance in the form of certificates.

Clients are justifiably stressed out when big fines are levied. Fail to resolve it and next thing you know your house has a lien against it. It’s no wonder vet client anxiety has a way of flooding down on us veterinarians.

It may by a local issue (an astronomical $160 citation fee for an intact dog likely is), but I’m willing to bet the licensing of pets is probably fraught with stressful issues elsewhere, too.

The problem is so serious here that veterinarians are looking for ways to get out of the tagging business altogether. We don’t make money at it, you know. Though it’s customary to charge two to three bucks to “cover our costs,” this pittance barely begins to address the time and stress of licensing.

Veterinary assistance with licensing is a traditional courtesy we extend our clients by way of reducing their headaches. But it may go the way of the Saber-tooth tiger here in its ancestral homeland.

And that would be a very bad deal for the County, indeed. As it stands, only 30% of dogs are licensed in Miami-Dade. I assume a hefty percentage of owners opts out due to previous fines and other troubles with the Animal Services bureaucracy. And since enforcement of dogs wearing physical tags is imperceptibly puny, why not go without?

Though our hospital won’t offer a rabies vaccine without a tag (unless you can prove you live outside County limits), other hospitals will gratefully comply with your request for vaccine sans license. If hospitals refused to enforce County policy (as mine does voluntarily) and merely handed a client a registration form, I’d bet the farm on a pitiful compliance rate.

And that’s why our hospital maintains its policy on licensing—we need to help keep Animal Services going for the sake of the pets who benefit from its shelter. Still, I can’t help thinking it’s licensing arm is so badly broken, in spite of a new Director’s best efforts, that we veterinarians are close to slamming the door shut on our willing participation.

Sure, that’s not what’s best for all pets. But can you blame us for feeling as if we’re being held hostage by the system?