Indianapolis Is One of the 30 Largest Cities in the U.S., Yet Lacks Dog Licensing Requirements

Indianapolis has an unwanted pet problem, and it is growing. The city has been battling to manage the unwanted pet population for quite some time, however, it has also been resistant to mandating a simple and valuable tool used by every other major U.S. city: pet licensing.

Indianapolis has been awarded the dubious title for being the only city out of the nation’s 30 largest to NOT require that a dog be registered or licensed by their owner. This new title is not one that anybody wants to keep, especially not Indianapolis' animal shelter employees. The Indianapolis Animal Care and Control agrees fully with dog owners being required to register their dogs. The city even had a licensing ordinance up until 1998, yet the ordinance was dropped due to the cost of enforcing and the blatant disregard by a majority of the dog owners to license their pets.

When this ordinance was eliminated, a dog license was $5 and there were about 30,000 dogs licensed out of an estimated population of 150,000 dogs in the city of Indianapolis. This breaks down to about 1 out of every 5 dogs in the city at the time being registered. When the licensing ordinance was eliminated, it was replaced with a much simpler system that required dogs to wear ID tags or identification of some sort. This met a lot of criticism because it was not solving or rectifying the problem.

The purpose of licensing ordinances is that they can usually help not only to reunite pet owners and pets when they become separated, but it can also help to curb the unwanted pet overpopulation. Licensing usually encourages owners to have their dogs spayed or neutered, because most programs offer significantly lower licensing fees for ‘fixed’ animals. A recent study found that on average, cities that require licensing of pets charges about $15 for ‘fixed’ pets and $75 for dogs that have not been spayed or neutered. Some of the cities surveyed give discounts to owners who microchip their pets as well. A microchip is a small computer chip loaded with the owner’s contact information that is placed under the pet’s skin, and when scanned can help return a lost pet to their owner.

Another benefit of having a dog that is licensed or micro-chipped, is being able to track down the owner and hold them responsible for any attack or bite that may occur while the dog is on the run. All too often, a child or individual will be bitten by a dog without identification and the owner escapes liability.

To further explain why licensing is so important, in 2008, the Indianapolis Animal Care and Control Division issued almost 1,300 tickets to dog owners due to lack of identification. The Animal Care and Control Department doesn't believe that this is even a fraction of how many dogs are actually without proper tags, especially considering the number of stray and lost dogs in the city.

As a result, hundreds and thousands of dogs end up being euthanized at the Indy Animal Care and Control because they go unclaimed. About 60% of the animals that the shelter takes in, end up being euthanized and in 2008, only about 10% of the dogs that the shelter took in were reunited, or 1,300 of the over 11,000 dogs. However, some dogs are not even that lucky to make it to the shelter. With so many loose and stray dogs in the city, there is about a 24hr waiting period for animal control officers to respond. During this time, the dog may get hit by a car, wander further away, or possibly bite an unsuspecting individual. The long response time is also likely connected to the ever increasing number of dog bites. The city of Indianapolis had over 700 bites recorded in 2006 and in 2008, the number had risen to almost 1,100.

Compared to Nationwide averages, a pet owner in Indianapolis is about 3 times less likely to get their dog back if it goes missing or is lost. In other parts of the state such as South Bend and Fort Wayne, pet licensing systems have been put into use effectively. South Bend offers owners discounts for micro-chipping and sterilizing their pets as well. The result is visible, as the shelters report receiving about 25% of their animals with identification of some sort. Indianapolis is about 15%. In Fort Wayne, similar campaigns have seen visible results as well. The current charge for a spayed or neutered pet is $5 vs. an unaltered dog which cost $100 to register. .

Putting a stop to the increased unwanted pet population and attempts to reduce the number of animals that were being killed at the shelters was the driving force behind the 2002 mayoral commission that recommended mandatory licensing. The group that had been appointed to address the problem also recommended licensing, microchips and discounts for spaying and neutering. However, nothing ever came of then Mayor Bart Peterson’s group’s recommendations. Each year following, the same recommendations were made, but it is still unclear by the Animal Care and Control department as to why the recommendations have not been put into effect and why the city has not moved forward with the idea of licensing and microchip regulations.

Most Indianapolis pet owners and advocates agree that it is not too much to ask to pay a small licensing fee if the program benefits animal welfare.

James R. Keller
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