A three-day delay for picking up dead animals. No response at all for most stray-dog reports. A crowded and aging animal shelter.
Our public animal services leave a lot to be desired in one of America’s friendliest cities for dogs and cats. But Multnomah County officials who provide those services say they lack the money to meet demand in a growing city that loves its pets.
As the county and the City of Portland embark on a new partnership to improve animal services, one of the hurdles they face is the high number of pet owners who fail to get their dogs and cats licensed.
Simply put, when it comes to licensing its pets, Portland is a city of slackers. Consulting public records, WW has learned that those shirkers include at least two elected officials and both of this newspaper’s owners.
County code requires owners to license their dogs and cats, with penalties ranging from a warning up to a $150 fine.
Money generated by the yearly fees of $30 per pet—less if your animal is spayed or neutered—make up about 22 percent of the $4.5 million the county has budgeted for animal services this year. Those services include running the animal shelter in Troutdale, connecting lost pets to their owners and dealing with emergencies like angry dogs loose in schoolyards.
All worthy goals. The trouble is that only about 25 percent of dogs and 7 percent of cats in Multnomah County are licensed, according to county estimates. That’s better than in Milwaukee, Wis., where just 10 percent of dogs are licensed. But it’s pathetic compared to Nashville, where 43 percent of pooches have tags.
At a Feb. 11 City Council hearing on funding for animal services, Commissioner Dan Saltzman asked how much power public officials have to crack down on people with unlicensed pets. He wondered aloud whether officers would enter yards or question people walking their dogs.
Commissioner Randy Leonard seemed intrigued by the tough talk.
“You’d have the citizen lay on their face, arms extended, until you could ascertain whether the dog is licensed or not,” Leonard said, eliciting laughs from the council chamber.
Saltzman chuckled too. But he had a secret. Curly, his 16-year-old cocker spaniel, was sitting home in his Southwest Portland condo, unlicensed since 2007.
Saltzman told WW Curly has no license because he’s too old to get a rabies shot. But at the February hearing, Saltzman asked county animal services director Mike Oswald about that very issue. Oswald told Saltzman the county would accept a vet’s waiver. Saltzman never followed up or brought Curly into compliance.
“You got me. I apologize,” Saltzman said after he was contacted by WW, adding he still believes violators should face tougher enforcement.
Most of the 37 Portlanders WW checked on either had no pets or had the licenses required. Leonard’s German shepherd, Rosey, has tags. So do Commissioner Amanda Fritz’s three cats, Jet, Jade and Jasper; filmmaker Gus Van Sant’s Australian shepherd mix, Milo; Trail Blazer Channing Frye’s bulldog, Lilly; and former Sheriff Bernie Giusto’s border collie, Jackson.
One other public official besides Saltzman was on the wrong side of the law. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) confirmed to WW he has no license for Sadie, his Airedale terrier.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Merkley said in an email. “We checked it, we blew it, and we’re fixing it. We’re gonna make an honest dog out of her.”
WW also ran searches on the newspaper’s owners, publisher Richard Meeker and editor Mark Zusman. Meeker’s mutt, Lulu, and Zusman’s chocolate Lab, Sally, both lacked a license. Meeker took responsibility for Lulu. Zusman threw Sally to the wolves.
“I’m really ashamed, and I will go out and get a license,” Zusman said, his weathered face both distracted and slightly annoyed. “I want to make clear that it is completely Sally’s fault. I’m an innocent bystander.”
Video Of Feb. 11 City Council Hearing On Funding For Animal Services
FACT: Three people did not respond to WW’s queries about how many pets they have. They were Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith, Oregonian Editor Sandy Rowe and U.S. Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.). Rowe’s household has one cat licensed; Smith and Wu have no pets licensed in their names.