Pet Identification and Dog Licensing: Changes and Challenges
The first dog license requirements in New York State date back to a New York City law enacted in 1894.
The first uniform statewide provision was enacted in 1917.
Since that time, dog licenses and tags have
been the primary means for identifying dogs in New York State. Other forms of identification are used for
ensuring the return of lost pets, and certain visible marks are used to notify others that the animal has
been spayed or neutered.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM), Division of Animal Industry
(DAI), currently oversees the statewide Dog Licensing System. However, effective January 1, 2011, all of
that will change. Although dog licensing will remain a state mandate, all of the functions and logistics of
licensing will become the responsibility of municipalities within the state.
While the changes in the law bring challenges to the municipalities, they also offer an opportunity to
improve upon the system and make it successful. Municipalities must examine other programs that have
high rates of compliance. In doing so, they need to identify the factors that contribute to success. While
developing guidelines for administering a dog licensing program, municipalities might also research
additional tools for identification of pets beyond the required tags.
New York State law requires the licensing of all dogs over four-months of age.
The purpose of dog
licensing is to ensure that licensed pets have received a rabies vaccination. Required tags help animal
control officers and shelters return pets to their owners. Licensing also helps municipalities keep track of
the number of dogs that a person owns, thus determining if a resident is in compliance with the limits
specified within their ordinances.
According to a press release from NYSDAM on August 13, 2010, the original purpose of the program was
to reimburse farmers for losses resulting from attacks on livestock by free-roaming dogs, and to address
concerns for rabies in dogs.
Today, these needs have been significantly reduced. The counties pay out
little for dog damage claims, and dogs are not considered to be prime carriers of rabies.
New York State
Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker has stated that the core mission of the state veterinarian is to
protect the public against contagious diseases such as Avian Influenza, Tuberculosis, and Chronic
State mandates for nearly ten percent reduction of operations spending and fifteen
percent reduction in staffing jeopardize programs that protect the public from these animal diseases.
These programs are further threatened by costs associated with the dog licensing program. Governor
Patterson has directed state agencies to fund only “Core Mission” activities.
The motivation behind the changes in the state law is, therefore, purely monetary. The state will save
$325,000 annually as a result of relinquishing the dog licensing program.
The Dog Licensing Program
and the Animal Population Control Fund (APCF) presently account for just under one-fifth of the DAI’s 5.2
million dollar budget. The statewide dog licensing database software contract costs $185,000. NYSDAM
has estimated a loss of $450,000 for 2009, due mostly to database expenses.
Important changes in Article 7 of the NYSDAM law affecting local governments are as follows:
• Local municipalities will keep one hundred percent of the revenues from licensing fees. Currently,
revenues are divided, with the municipality receiving 53 percent, the county 30 percent,
and the state 17 percent.
• Municipalities will now be free to set fees for licenses, tags, enumerations, impoundments, and
• Fines for violations increased from a maximum of, to a minimum of $25/$50/$100 for first, second,
and third offenses.
• Municipalities will determine whether to eliminate or continue to issue purebred licenses.
• The new law eliminates all local reporting to counties or New York State.
• Tags will state the name of the municipality, town clerk’s contact information, license ID number,
any additional information determined by the local entity.
• The APCF will no longer be administered by the state.
• An “administrative entity” shall be chosen to administer the APCF by a competitive bidding
process prior to 01/01/11.
• This entity shall be responsible for the disbursement of monies to shelters, pounds, SPCAs,
humane societies, animal protective associations, and other groups, for the purpose of
carrying out the function of the APCF.
• Municipalities will continue to collect a surcharge to the license fee, to provide revenue for
the APCF, with minimums of $1.00 for altered dogs and $3.00 for unaltered dogs.
• Surcharges under the present system will still be collected and deposited in the fund. It is
expected that the fund will contain $700,000 by 01/01/11.
In addition to license tags, other forms of pet identification do exist and are used to some extent. These
include personal ID tags, rabies tags, microchips, and purebred identification tattoos. Ear tipping of feral
cats and spay/neuter tattoos on dogs and cats are used to show that the animal has been previously
Personal ID tags can also help return pets to their owners. These tags can be purchased in pet stores,
online, pet catalogs, and veterinarian offices. Personal ID tags generally have the owner’s phone
number, and may also include the pet’s name, address of owner, and email address. An advantage of
personal ID tags is that the information leads directly to the owner. Therefore, anyone who finds a pet
with a personal ID tag may return the animal to its owner.
Rabies tags are required by New York State law as an indication of inoculation against rabies. Rabies
tags have a serial number, the year of issue, and often the name, address, and phone number of the
issuing veterinarian. Rabies tags are not only helpful in returning a pet to its owner, but in the event that
the pet bites a human or another animal, the rabies tag will provide evidence that the pet is up-to-date on
its rabies vaccination. This may save the pet from euthanasia for rabies testing, as well as spare the
person from enduring a series of rabies shots.
Microchips are a permanent form of identification that consists of a tiny transponder, about the size of a
grain of rice, implanted under the pet’s skin. The microchip carries a unique number and the animal’s
ownership information is maintained in the manufacturer’s database. Microchips have a life expectancy of
approximately 25 years, and most shelters and veterinarians have universal scanners that can read the
information stored in chips supplied by various vendors.
Ear tipping is a universally accepted practice used to demonstrate that a feral cat has been spayed or
neutered. This involves the surgical removal of a small piece of the tip of the left ear, and is done while
the cat is under anesthesia, normally during a routine spay or neuter surgery. It does not significantly
alter the cat’s appearance, but it is recognizable and serves to identify the cat’s reproductive status.
addition to avoiding unnecessary trapping and surgery, ear tipping allows the reproductive status of a cat
to be identified from a distance, without trapping. Animal control personnel may refrain from trapping cats
with ear tips. An ear tip can also help in recognizing that a cat is a member of a managed “Trap Neuter
Release” (TNR) colony and provide caretakers of such colonies with a means of recognizing unaltered
cats that may join the colony.
Purebred identification numbers are sometimes tattooed in the ear or on the thigh of an animal. This is a
practice of the American Kennel Club and other purebred registries. These are a more permanent form of
identification than tags, and cannot be lost as tags may be.
Shelters and rescue groups can also recognize reproductive status of stray cats and dogs if these
animals have been tattooed at the time of spay/neuter by a veterinarian. This tattoo consists of a small
green line tattooed on each side of the incision. This is not only helpful, but it is a humane practice that
can spare animals unnecessary surgeries. Often, neutered animals are difficult to identify, as scars are
sometimes not visible, especially with the passage of time.
The spay/neuter tattoos may also be a green
or black “X”, or the symbol for a male or female with an “X” through the symbol. These tattoos are placed
near the incision, the inner thigh, or groin.
Dog licensing programs across the county have proven to be less than promising. In the March, 2002
issue, Animal People published compliance rates for dog licensing in eight cities across the United
States. The highest overall compliance rates were in the Northeast with a rate of 32 percent. This was
followed by the Midwest with 28 percent, the West with 24 percent, and the South with 10 percent. The
average rate for the United States was 28 percent. The same article states that in order to reach effective
routine enforcement a 90 percent compliance rate is necessary.
According to Merritt Clifton, editor of
Animal People, figures reported since the writing of the article in 2002 have fallen within the same range,
with verifiable compliance rates of 25 percent at best.
Compliance rates within the Capital Region are comparable to the rest of the country. For the purposes
of this paper, there are eleven counties defining the Capital Region. They are listed in the following table
along with their dog licensing compliance rates. There are no published compliance rates for the region,
and rates are difficult to verify, as dog population enumerations are not exact. Therefore, the rates shown
in the table were calculated by applying the American Veterinary Medical Association’s formula for
determining dog population
to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimated 2009 populations,
from the 2006 - 2008 American Communities three-year Survey,
and dog licensing statistics for the
Capital Region counties listed in the table.
(Note: Purebred licenses were not included.)
Rates of Compliance for Licensing of Dogs in the Capital Region by County
County Total Dogs Licenses Issued Compliance Rate
Albany 82,321 14,895 18.0%
Columbia 16,932 4,798 28.3%
Fulton 14,933 5,355 35.8%
Greene 11,457 2,447 21.3%
Montgomery 12,696 5,465 43.0%
Rensselaer 39,798 8,373 21.0%
Saratoga 55,412 19,528 35.2%
Schenectady 38,315 7,098 18.5%
Schoharie 8,234 2,533 30.7%
Warren 18,381 4,705 25.5%
Washington 16,388 7,079 43.1%
Overall Rate of Compliance for Licensing of Dogs in the Capital Region
Total Dogs Licenses Issued Compliance Rate
314,867 82,276 26.1%
As of January 1, 2011, the shift in responsibility for administering the the dog licensing program from the
state to the local level will bring additional responsibilities, both administrative and financial.
Municipalities presently take applications, issue licenses, collect fees, enforce the law, and maintain dog
control officers and shelter services.
Under the revised law, local governments must also provide
applications, issue renewal notices, purchase and provide tags, and maintain a database.
There will be
additional costs associated with the forms, tags, and database. Town clerks are still charged with the
majority of responsibility for administering the dog licensing programs.
However, there may be a need
to hire additional staff to facilitate the program, and to carry out dog population enumerations.
Under the new law, tags will remain the only legal form of identification. Area shelters must comply with
the state-mandated stray hold of five days for dogs without tags and seven days for dogs with tags.
However, as illustrated in the table above, only slightly more than 25 percent of the dogs in the Capital
Region are licensed. When there is no longer a central database, shelters will not be able to look up a
license on a computer, but will need to contact the clerk in the municipality where the license was issued.
This could affect the time frame for return-to-owner.
License tags, personal ID tags, and rabies tags are all very effective means of identification if they are
actually worn by pets. Sometimes licensed dogs do not wear tags, or they may lose them.
Microchips are a permanent and effective means of identification, but they are not widely used. This may
be due to the relatively high cost. In the Capital Region, charges range from $50 without registration to
$63 including the registration fee. In addition, some vets may charge a fee for the office visit.
Pet owners often have their pets microchipped, but do not register them, or may not update information
when they change their address. In a study lead by Linda Lord, assistant professor of Veterinary
Preventive Medicine at Ohio State University, 53 shelters in 23 states maintained records on
microchipped animals brought to the shelters from August 2007 through March 2008. Data was obtained
for a total of 7,704 animals. In cases where owners were not found, 35.4 percent had incorrect or
disconnected phones, 24.3 percent failed to return calls or respond to letters, 9.8 percent had failed to
register the microchips, and 17.2 percent of the microchips were registered in a database that differed
from the manufacturer. In all, 72.7 percent of the owners of microchipped animals were found, but only
1.8 percent of all stray dogs and cats in the study had been microchipped.
Not all microchips are compatible with all vendors’ scanners. There are three radio frequencies used,
125kHz, 128kHz, and 134.2kHz.
A microchip may go undetected if a veterinarian or shelter does not
have a scanner that reads all frequencies. Today there are universal scanners designed to read all
microchips. It is important that agencies are up-to-date with this technology.
Presently, there is no central database for microchip data from all vendors. Such a database would
greatly enhance the effectiveness of pet recovery by microchip. However, the American Animal Hospital
Association (AAHA) has instituted the online AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup. This tool checks the
databases of participating pet recovery services to determine which has registration information available
for a microchip. Once a microchip identification number is entered into the tool, it is only a matter of
seconds before a list of all the registries with information for that particular microchip becomes available.
If the microchip has not been registered with any participating pet recovery service, the results returned
will default to the microchip’s manufacturer or distributor. The tool will not give pet owner information, for
privacy reasons, but it will give the name and contact information for registries that do have this
information. Since the tool is a “work in progress”, the AAHA will seek continued collaboration from
microchip companies as well as supplement with feedback derived from veterinary hospitals, animal
control facilities, and shelter staff members. Currently five registries are participants. This is certainly a
step forward for pet recovery and is being endorsed by the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families
whose members include many prominent national organizations such as the Humane Society of the
United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Purebred identification tattoos are permanent, but they are often difficult to find or read, due to the fading
of the ink and the length of an animals coat. Tattoos of this nature are often overlooked by shelter
workers when handling frightened or aggressive dogs, or dogs with heavy coats.
Often the tattooed
number will lead back to the breeder, but not the owner of the dog.
Spay/neuter tattoos for dogs and cats makes sense, but it is not a practice of veterinarians in the Capital
There are only three ways to determine if an animal is definitely altered.
The first is
exploratory surgery which is invasive and carries risk. This wastes precious shelter resources, both
human and financial, not to mention suffering on the part of the animals. Hormonal testing is another way
to determine reproductive status, but is is expensive and also takes time. The third method, tattooing, is
permanent, easily recognized, and cost effective.
Ear tipping of feral cats is routinely done by feral cat rescues, veterinarians, and shelters in the Capital
Region. This practice has been, and remains, a successful tool in managing the feral cat populations in
the Capital Region.
NYSDAM’s current dog licensing program is an essentially sound model. It’s failure may be contributed
to several factor’s. First of all, low compliance levels have meant that approximately three-quarters of the
potential income from licensing is not being collected. An increase in compliance rates would generate
income needed to support operating expenses. Additionally, the base fees for licensing a dog have not
only failed to significantly increase over the years, but they have actually decreased when one compares
changes in the relative value of a dollar over the last eighty years. The base fees in 1929 were $2.25 for
males and unspayed females, and $5.25 for unaltered females. These fees are equivalent to $28 and
$65 in today’s economy. The base fees in New York State today are $2.50 for altered and $7.50 for
It is unrealistic to think that a program that was initiated in 1929 can meet its expenses
when funding has not increased to keep up with an ever-changing economy.
Another factor that has possibly influenced the failure of New York’s present dog licensing system is the
lack of “ownership” by a single government entity. NYSDAM has been responsible for the administration
of the dog licensing program, but the municipalities have been charged with collecting the fees and
enforcing compliance. Neither of these governing entities has made dog licensing a priority, an opinion
that may be supported by their lack of success. The absence of data regarding dog populations and
licensing compliance in the Capital Region speaks to the lack of attention given to the dog licensing
program. If local governments were diligent in enumerating dog populations, enforcing dog licensing
laws, and educating the public about the benefits of licensing, success might follow. When the
municipalities have total ownership of the success or failure of the entire program, determining fees and
fines for violations, as well as keeping all of the fees collected, there may be a heightened interest in
working toward compliance.
In researching dog licensing programs, there is little documentation available. The research yielded only
one locality that has produced a successful dog licensing program with substantial documentation to
support their claims. Surprisingly, this is not located in the United States, but in the city of Calgary in
Alberta, Canada. This city published the following statistics for 2009:
• High Licensing Compliance Rates
• over 90% for dog licenses
• nearly 60% for cats
(note: The cat licensing program began in 2007 with a seven-year goal of 90%.)
• High Return-to-Owner Rates
• 86% for dogs
• 49% for cats
(note: An additional 9% of dogs and 28% of cats were adopted out.)
Calgary Animal Services has an annual operating budget of five million dollars, generated entirely through
license fees and penalties.
These fees are listed below.
• puppies up to six months and altered dogs - $31
• unaltered dogs - $52
• altered cats - $10
• unaltered kittens up to six months - $15
• unaltered cats - $30
There is a zero tolerance policy for non-compliance, and the fine for an unlicensed dog is $250.
However, through responsible pet ownership education, the program has 95% voluntary compliance with
only 5% enforcement.
These fees are relatively high in comparison with those presently charged in the
Capital Region. Current fees are generally within the range of $4.50 to $12.50, depending on whether the
dog is spayed or neutered. With the changes in the law, however, we may see considerable increases
associated with additional costs of administration and enumerations.
The Calgary Animal Services program is not based solely on licensing, but rather, it is a broad program
with a shift in emphasis away from traditional animal control to responsible pet ownership.
on compliance, not enforcement.
The Calgary Responsible Pet Ownership by-law is based on four
• License and provide permanent identification for pets.
• Spay or neuter pets.*
• Provide training, physical care, socialization and medical attention for companion pets.
• Do not allow pets to become a threat or nuisance in the community.
The Calgary Animal Services Program was started in the 1980’s and has taken over twenty years to
reach its current level of success.
It has been suggested that there are three reasons why the Calgary
model has succeeded where other such models have failed.
• They had a leader (Bill Bruce, director of Animal Services) who truly believed that no healthy
adoptable animal should be killed.
• He believed that a positive reinforcement approach with the community would be successful.
• He assembled a team that shares that same vision
Belief in a program may be a major the key to its success.
In the United States, the Spokane County Regional Animal Care and Protection Services (SCRAPS) is a
program that began in 2003 and has modeled itself after the Calgary program. There are no statistics
available for actual license compliance. Therefore, its results cannot be directly compared with those of
Calgary. However, there are published increases in fees collected through licensing, during the first year
of the program, as follows.
• 12% increase in income from licenses (approximately $40,000)
• 22 % increase per month in new licenses issued
• 7% increase per month in license renewals issued
Both the Calgary and the SCRAPS programs are cited as models on the ASPCA website. Municipalities
in the Capital Region would do well to examine elements of these model programs. Below are a few
suggestions for improving and developing animal services in the Capital Region.
• Develop public education programs in responsible pet ownership for children and adults.
• Educate the public on the value of licensing.
• return pets to owner
• ensure vaccinations against rabies
• support adoption, spay/neuter, and protection services
• Strictly enforce the law with penalties high enough to discourage non-compliance (zero tolerance).
• Make license applications accessible to the public in post offices, banks, stores, veterinarian offices,
• Maintain and publish good statistics, and report to the public.
• Maintain a website for public information as well as online applications and renewals.
• Saturate the public with informational advertising via the local media (cable stations, radio,
newspapers) and flyers included in municipal government mailings.
• Work cooperatively with government, humane organizations, and veterinarians.
• Conduct enumerations for the purpose of enforcement and determining compliance.
• Promote permanent forms of identification (microchips), and recognition of reproductive status
(spay/neuter tattoos and ear tipping for feral cats.)
• Require every animal control officer (ACO) to carry universal microchip scanners. This would allow
an animal to be returned immediately to its owner, allowing the ACO to issue a citation directly to
owner rather than impounding the animal in a shelter.
In order to attain an acceptable level of licensing compliance in the Capital Region, as well as improve the
lives of companion animals, the municipalities need to look to models of success outside of our region.
Change and success will not happen without well-defined goals, effective administration, long term
commitment, and the cooperative efforts of animal related agencies and personnel. A realistic approach
might be for municipalities to begin with better oversight and enforcement of the present system, while at
the same time making plans for the future.
New York State DepartmentofAgriculture and Markets, “Effective Jan.1, Municipalities Will Assume Responsibility
for Renewals,Tags,& Database,” August13, 2010, http://www.agmkt.state.ny.us/AD/release.asp?ReleaseID=1912
New York State DepartmentofAgriculture & Markets, “NEW YORK STATE AGRICULTURE AND MARKETS LAW,
ARTICLE 7 LICENSING, IDENTIFICATION AND CONTROL OF DOGS, Effective January 1, 2011,” (Sec. 109,1a)
Alex Lieber,“The Purpose ofPet Licenses,” http://www.petplace.com/dogs/the-purpose-of-pet-licenses/page1.aspx
“NYS Executive BudgetProposal for Dog Licensing (2010‐ 2011),” New York State Town Clerk’s Association,
2010 Annual Meeting. Saratoga, New York, April 26, 2010.
“NYS Executive Budget Proposal for Dog Licensing. What Does It Mean for Tompkins County?”
Rick Karlin, “Dog Licenses Ready to Lose Bite in 2011,” Times Union. August 13, 2010
New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, “NYS Animal Population Control Program
Changes - Guidance Document.”
The Humane Society of the United States, “High Technology: Identifying Lost Pets With Microchips.”
October 26, 2009.
Levy, Julie, DVM, PhD, ACVIM. “Ear Tipping of Feral Cats - Universally Accepted.”
Barchas, Eric, DVM. “Is it Normal for Pets to Receive Tattoos During Spays and Neuters?”
Blankfein, Dr. Roger, DVM. (via email) December 7, 2010.
Merritt Clifton, Editor of Animal People, (via email) September 29, 2010, “ Dog & cat licensing
compliance, costs, and effect,” Animal People, March 2002.
Merritt Clifton, Editor of Animal People, (via email) September 29, 2010.
American Veterinary Medical Association, “U.S. Pet Ownership - 2007.”
U.S. Census Bureau Population Finder (2009 Estimated Population).
U.S. Census Bureau Fact Finder (2006 - 2008 American Communities Three-Year Survey).
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, “Capital Region Dog Licenses Issued, 2008 -
2009,” Microsoft Excel Download, Obtained by FOIL.
Capital Region Veterinarians (telephone survey), October 2010.
“Microchips Result in High Rate of Return of Shelter Animals to Owners.”
American Veterinary Medical Association, “Backgrounder: Microchipping of Animals.”
October 2, 2009.
American Animal Hospital Association. “FAQs for AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool.”
“Microchips,” Dog Owner’s Guide.
Capital Region Veterinarians.
Dr. James W. Randolf, “Tattoos Indicate Spay and Neuter,” September 2, 2009.
Saunders, E. “It’s About Human Responsibility, The Calgary Model for Animal Services.”
Lea Storry, “More Calgarians license their cats, but overpopulation problem lingers,” The
Vancouver Sun. [Online] Available
The City of Calgary, “2009 Animal and Bylaw Services Annual Report.”
“The Best Animal Control Program in North America.”
“The City of Calgary animal Services: Dog Licensing Program,” Compiled by ASPCA®
and distributed to the field, July 2007.
“Calgary Model Presentation,” Microsoft Powerpoint.
“SCRAPS: Dog Licensing Program.” Compiled by ASPCA® and PetSmart Charities® and
distributed to the field, September 2007.