Cost Accounting in Local Government

Rethinking Animal Control

When our company started doing cost of services studies in the early 1980’s, it was routinely suggested that 50% of animal control costs could be recovered from dog licenses. The other 50% was looked at as a public safety expense to protect the community from rabies. In other words, all residents of the community would pay 50% of the cost with taxes and dog owners would pay 50% of the cost through license fees.

Today, the norm seems to be that dog license fees cover about 25% of the cost of animal control. This trend seems to be a combination of fewer and fewer pet owners feeling compelled to license their pets and mission creep in animal control operations.

There are a number of ways to identify the owner of unlicensed dogs and to structure animal control to reduce the tax subsidy. However, as a dyed in the wool iconoclast, I would like to question the very existence of animal control.

I suggest that it is time for society to step back and discuss the role and importance of animal control in the modern world. Are pet owners responsible enough to vaccinate their dogs for rabies prevention? Maybe, but does it matter any more. Only about two to three people die in the U.S. from rabies each year and the greatest risk is from wild animals, especially bats. To put that number in perspective for the U.S., approximately 1,100 people die annually from firearm accidents and 43,000 from motor vehicle accidents.

Considering mission creep, more and more cities are proposing annual inspections of businesses boarding, selling, and grooming dogs, cats, horses and fish. These additional inspections may be the best thing in the world for the protection of horses, dogs, cats and fish, but, is the community buying into the mission any more than they are buying into rabies vaccinations?

In our urban world, maybe the most important role for animal control is: (1) to identify and quarantine vicious dogs; (2) to control noise pollution from continually barking dogs; (3) to require dog owners to clean up after their dog in public; (4) to control wild animals such as foxes, raccoons and opossums living in urban areas; and, (5) to control feral cats which are impacting the song-bird population. In each case, the dog license would be of minimal value and the service could only operate by means of a tax subsidy.

Please respond with your thoughts on whether you feel there is a role for animal control in the modern world.

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