State dog law enforcement officers are tightening the leash, so to speak, on those who have not bought a license for man's best friend.
It's a state law that is meant to keep the animals safe should they ever become strays and one that provides a source of revenue for the state Department of Agriculture.
Spreading that message Friday was state Agriculture Secretary George Greig, who was at the Lycoming County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Reach Road.
Above, state Dog Law Supervisor Edward Lucas meets “Grace,” a 2-year-old hound mix at the SPCA Friday. State Agriculture Secretary George Greig was on hand with local officials to promote a statewide campaign to have all dogs licensed.
He joined dog wardens who work in Lycoming, Tioga and Potter counties and state and county lawmakers and officials, to remind people to license their dogs, especially this month, which is designated "Dog License Awareness Month."
"Licensing your dog is the responsibility of dog ownership, and it's the law," Greig said. "Buy a license for your dog in March. You'll help your best friend and if we meet the goal of selling 100,000 licenses this month, you'll support an organization that helps Pennsylvanians lead independent lives."
"We're going around knocking on doors," said Scott Shurer, Lycoming County dog warden.
He said enforcement focus is across the board, but the warden centers his attention on the larger population first, and whenever he also makes stops at various boroughs and townships.
Greig said advanced technology used by dog wardens in Jefferson County can track who does not have a license, but the technology isn't being used locally at this time.
The process of "canvassing" involves actually going to the front door and introducing themselves to the owners, seeing whether they own a dog and if it has a license and rabies vaccination, said Edward Lucas, state dog law supervisor.
Law enforcement officers said they will check whether dog owners bought the licenses and give fair and friendly warnings before having the authorization to issue citations.
A card will be given to dog owners who have not complied and they will be asked to fill it out and return it showing they obtained a license. State law requires all dogs 3 months and older to be licensed each year. Owners who fail to license their dogs could face a fine of up to $300 for each unlicensed dog.
"Licensing your dog is easy and affordable," said Lycoming County Treasurer Connie Rupert. "State dog owners can purchase a license at their county treasurer's office, through agents and online."
An annual dog license is $8.45, or $6.45 if the animal is spayed or neutered. Lifetime licenses are available for dogs that have permanent identification such as a microchip or tattoo. Discounts are offered to older adults and people with disabilities.
The lifetime licenses are $51.45 but go down to $31.45 for pets spayed or neutered. For senior citizens or those with disabilities the cost is $31.45 for a regular license and $21.45 if the animal is either spayed or neutered, Rupert said.
The number of licenses sold has gone down over the years in Lycoming County, Rupert said.
In 2008, for example, the office sold 13,779 licenses and last year the number was 10,472, she said.
Rupert said the drop may be attributable to the number of dog owners obtaining lifetime licenses as opposed to annual licenses.
The value of licenses
"Each day we rescue lost dogs, some of which are not licensed," said Victoria Stryker, Lycoming County SPCA executive director. "Your best friend's best chance at a happy homecoming is a dog license."
The shelter averages 1,300 to 1,460 dogs per year, and of that amount 52 percent are strays. Of that number, 81 percent of those dogs did not have licenses, she said.
"Lots of strays don't get back to their owners," Stryker said.
Last year, only 59 percent were returned to their owners, said Stryker who encouraged license purchases and supported microchip technology available at most veterinarian offices.
Licensing fees are the primary source of revenue for the state Department of Agriculture Dog Law Enforcement Office, which is responsible for ensuring the welfare of dogs, regulating dangerous dogs and overseeing annual licensing and rabies vaccinations.
State dog wardens completed 4,711 kennel inspections last year and issued 3,113 summary citations and 56 misdemeanor charges related to violations of state dog law.
Earlier this month, Greig and pet specialty retailer PetSmart challenged the state residents to license that many dogs through April 6.
If the licensing goal is met, the company will donate $10,000 to Susquehanna Service Dogs, a non-profit organization that trains and provides service and hearing dogs that help children and adults with special needs become more independent.