Does your mechanic issue car tags, registrations or drivers’ licenses? Then why is your vet expected to take on tag detail in some municipalities?

Sorry for the automotive analogy (trust me, I know pets are nothing like cars) but it’s been bugging me for years now that my staff and I are effectively obliged to handle the licensing of pets on our county’s behalf.

Apart from telling clients they can get their license at the closest municipal shelter (in a neighboring area 45 minutes away), we really have no choice in the matter. Our clients would balk at the notion that they’d be expected to acquire their tags at a separate location. Not when it’s been like this for thirty years.

Vets in my area are uniformly frustrated by the stress licensing pets foists upon us. We have to fill out yearly forms, issue physical tags the county sends us (late sometimes), maintain records for these, send a copy to Miami-Dade County (our governing municipality for pet licensure) and pay them the monthly proceeds from the license fees we collect on their behalf.

More than that, we need to explain county ordinances in detail so our clients remain in compliance, field calls and questions from clients who have been fined, and take the heat for frequent municipal missteps (as when clients are fined when they are indeed in compliance—something that happens unreasonably frequently).

Our egregiously mismanaged municipal situation may perhaps be a local issue, but responses to some of my previous posts prove that licensing pets can be a serious hassle in many parts of the US.

Licensing pets (dogs only in my area) helps fund Miami-Dade County’s shelters and our Animal Services Department. Because I believe these funds are used to help animals I urge my clients to tag their animals and remain in compliance. In general, I believe it’s good public policy to tax owners of pets for the services they might need.

Ask local vets, however, and the true state of the situation is made plain: We don’t tag our own pets. Why? Because we generally believe the County is more likely to fine us in error than it is to use our license fees wisely.

Why, then, should we vets expect our clients to license their pets? And yet we do.

It’s a serious problem—especially now that license fees have risen. In Miami-Dade County it costs about $30 to license a spayed or neutered pet and $55 for an intact one—every year. The fine for noncompliance? $60 and $160, for sterilized and non-sterilized dogs, respectively. If you're early or late on acquiring your tags you'll also be fined the same amount.

The chances that you’ll be found out of compliance if you never register your dogs? Unless your dog bites someone (and it gets legal) or gets rounded up by the dog catcher (highly unlikely) you’re very rarely called out.

So why risk yearly fines? If your own vet doesn’t license his/her pets why should YOU bother? If you know the possibility for being fined in spite of your compliance is high (due to all-too-common paperwork and computer errors), why tag your pet at all?

Such is the state of affairs in our area. And now they’re amending the system to make it more “foolproof.” Unfortunately, the new commandments are so vague that two emails to the head of Animal Services have failed to resolve my confusion.

It now seems that clients who initially receive licenses on a certain date of the month must secure their annual renewal on the same month and before the day they received their initial rabies tag—or be fined.

In other words, if they received their initial tag on October the third they have three days out of every October (for as long as their pet lives) to get their annual license renewed (Oct 1 through 3). If they purchase their tags any sooner (on September 30th, let's say) they’d be fined.

The explanations involved in helping my clients achieve compliance in this new world order (as if the previous conditions weren’t annoying enough) make me want to get out of the tag business altogether.

Why should vets be asked to take on this detail? It isn’t as though I went to school to enforce laws.

After all, must a doctor divulge individual health concerns to a patient's employer? Must priests turn thieves into the police? Does your car’s mechanic have to report unregistered vehicles?

Why, then, do veterinarians in municipalities like mine have to suffer the increased workload and stress of maintaining licenses for the county government? Why do I have to suffer the angst of enforcing local laws? Does my veterinary oath to heal animals extend to supporting my county’s tax structure so pets can receive shelter care when needed?

What do you think?