Owners of dogs or wolf-hybrids six months or older have until April 1 to renew their dog license, but the fine for not doing so is apparently rarely levied. Dog license fees also vary. In many towns, the annual fee is $9 per year for a dog that has been neutered or spayed, or $13 for a dog that has not been fixed. Those rates are established in state statute. But in Montpelier, the fee is $22 for a neutered or spayed dog and $26 for an unaltered dog.
Why the higher rates in Montpelier? According to Montpelier City Clerk John Odum, in 2015 the city convinced the Legislature to approve a charter change allowing the city to set its own rates. He said the higher rates are used to fund “dog poop” stations in the city.
The number of licensed dogs in Montpelier in 2019 was 404, up slightly from the 395 licensed dogs in 2013, the earliest data Odum could find. “I suspect there are a ton of unlicensed dogs in Montpelier,” Odum said.
In Middlesex, where the dog license fees are $9 and $13, there are 56 licensed dogs, according to Middlesex Town Clerk Sarah Merriman, who also thinks there are unlicensed dogs in her town. “I suspect that number is a little low,” she said. “People are kind of slacking off in terms of licensing their dogs.”
Under state statute, a dog owner may be fined up to $500 for having an unlicensed dog, but Middlesex animal control officer Erika Holm said she has never levied a fine. “I see my job as getting a lost dog back to its owner, or dealing with an excessive barking situation,” she said. “If I find an unlicensed dog, I tell the owners they have to get a license and then I report them to the town clerk.”
To get a license, a dog must be up to date on rabies shots. Holm said most of the unlicensed dogs she runs across have had their rabies shots. Shots can be obtained through a veterinarian, or at one of the clinics run by the Central Vermont Humane Society, which charges $20, according to Holm, who works for the Humane Society.
In Montpelier, the police department handles enforcement of the city’s dog ordinance. A first offense for an unlicensed dog gets a formal warning, while a second offense is subject to a civil penalty of $100 or a waiver fine of $50. The fines rise for additional offenses, eventually reaching $500 for a fourth offense.
“If we find an unlicensed dog, we tell the owner that they must register or they will have to pay a fine,” Capt. Neil Martel of the Montpelier Police Department said. He said that in 2019 there were 82 cases of lost or found dogs reported to the department, and that most of them had licenses, which makes returning them to their owners easier.