Dog Licensing

Mooki takes City Hall

While my list of pie-in-the-sky wishes for our city includes a complete overhaul of our city’s animal services*, the reality is any city’s animal services department is going to be low on the priority list if the powers that be don’t get told it should be a priority.

Do you know how municipalities determine how important animal services are? In part, they use the data collected by the number of licenses purchased to tell them what kinds of dogs are living in the city and where those dogs are. (I’m saying dogs because in New Westminster, cats do not really factor into the bylaws other than a brief mention of maximum allowable numbers – my opinion is that all pets should be accounted for in the bylaws). This helps City decision makers allocate where to build services like dog parks, water fountains that are dog accessible, cycling or jogging routes that consider users may bring their pets by placing waste receptacles along the way, etc. The data collected from licensing also helps municipalities determine staffing and resources such as shelters and fleet vehicles. I have had direct experience with the animal control officers in our city, and for the most part, they are caring, sensible people, who are working as best they can within the parameters of what they are allocated.

New Westminster has a high number of dog parks relative to the size and population of our city. Some of them come with a bit of controversy. The one downtown, for example, is on the Chinese Benevolent Society’s former land, and was built primarily to reduce the visibility of an empty crime-inviting lot right beside the Skytrain station long before the Plaza 88 development was underway, and there is a chance that dog park will be removed when the Reconciliation Process currently underway is complete. As well, when the province rebuilt the portion of road that connects the Queensborough Bridge to the mainland, and allowed for the through road to Marine Way in Burnaby, the once magnificent dog park on the hill below 22nd Street Skytrain Station was removed and the replacement is, to put it mildly, disappointing – I have yet to see anyone actually using it.  But have you been to Hume Park dog park? Or Queens Park? They are well maintained, large, and have developed a strong sense of community with the dog owners who frequent them.

License renewal forms are rolling out today and tomorrow from the City.  New licenses are available at the City or by mail – a form is online. It is critical that if you have a dog you purchase one. They are inexpensive – a first time license for a spayed or neutered dog is $20 if its purchased before March 1st. An extremely discounted rate is also available if you move into the community and want to transfer your license from another municipality. Back when I lived in Vancouver for a year, the cost to transfer Mooki’s license back to New Westminster was a measly $1.

Many people don’t see the value in a dog license. Here’s what you get: a small tag (that you can get engraved with your pet’s name on the reverse – how convenient!) and the ability to get your lost dog back should animal control pick it up. Doesn’t seem like much right? But what you also get by choosing to buy a license is to be included in the data the city uses to make choices that will have a direct impact on you as a resident. The more dogs a city’s decision makers are aware of, the more importance they can place on offering services for our beloved pets. This is not about “the man” knowing too much about you, this is about you being able to offer your beloved pet a chance to count in the city, too. And you want your pet to count, right?


* The short(er) version of my overhaul pie in the sky wish list: Animal Services needs to be made its own department, not fall under Engineering Operations and share resources with the people who tow vehicles and issue parking tickets. The animal control officers need to be empowered and encouraged to be proactive instead of responding to complaints only and need to increase their visibility to deal with nuisance pet owners. I think New Westminster needs to get rid of BSL, adopt a licensing system for cats (as in Calgary’s much lauded animal welfare system that pays for itself), revamp their chicken bylaws (which currently falls under health bylaws, and not animal control), to make it simpler to keep chickens on city lots for those who wish to do so, reevaluate their bylaws that deal with exotic pets and the sales of pets, plan for a new shelter in the near future, and implement bite education in our local schools. Phew. Not much, eh? 


13 Replies to “Dog Licensing”

  1. AMEN to all of this!

    I was also contacted by the head of Animal Services today to discuss assisting them with educating pet owners (my clients) with the benefits of licensing their dogs with the City of New Westminster. I enthusiastically said yes, as I am a firm believer and advocate of licensing pets for many of the same reasons you are.

    Brigette Mayer
    Calli Co. Pet Services

  2. Excellent article! Licensing is part of responsible ownership, and is a very small "user fee" we pay for a spectrum of services.

    Together with a microchip it's also safety net if your pet is ever separated from you. What would you do if your dog went missing? You would probably call the local shelter, and maybe those of surrounding municipalities, and if your dog was there it may be matched to you based on description, vet records, etc. But there have been cases where the dog is stolen or somehow travelled to a different area. If you don't claim your dog within 48-72 hours, they become shelter property – put up for adoption or, in some cases euthanized. If your dog is microchipped and licensed, it allows the dog to be tracked back to your municipal animal control and directly to you.

    In Calgary, the licensing compliance rate is 90% (as opposed to the average 20-30%) and Animal Control Officers have computers in their truck with the city's database. If they find your dog as a stray on the street, they'll actually drive it directly home.

  3. I personally use the 22nd St dog park quite a bit … my girl doesn't "play well with others" so it's where we can have a large space to ourselves for awhile to give her much-needed runs and games of fetch.

    1. I am sooooo glad! I always look and hope to see it being used. I have a "doesn't plan well with others" dog too. We don't go to any dog parks. 🙂

      1. I've gone to the 22nd St dog park a few times too specifically because of its location and there were a few other dogs there each time. It's definitely a weird location, but it's a huge space with lots of area to run… and is especially fun for the dogs that like to chase bikes and cars 🙂

  4. I too use the 22nd Street park. I can usually be found there on Sat and Sun mornings with Tyra and Bogey. We love the park! Even in the rain the dogs stay fairly clean as there is almost no mud!

    Although Tyra loves to race buses (video coming) and the little patch at the very end of her race, where the bus disappears off onto the Queensboro bridge can get a bit muddy. The small gravel that covers a lot of the area is great and I really appreciate not having to give them a bath every time we come home from the park.
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  5. I'm curious why your wish list includes a licensing system for cats – all the examples you give of facilities that are influenced by dog ownership numbers don't seem to apply to cats (cat-accessible water fountains, anyone ?). The only thing I see in the article that might apply to cats is reuniting them with their owner if they get lost. I suspect that anyone who'd license their cat already has them collared and/or microchipped.

    1. Hi Chris, that's a very fair question. The "ride home" aspect is one of the more important parts of a cat licensing program, but for a lot of reasons, not just reuniting. Lots of owners let their cats roam at night, and there is still a perception that cats don't need to be altered. Put the two together, and you have a lot of unwanted litters being produced, and many of them go unknown. There is a large feral cat population in any city – New West is no exception – and studies of cat colonies show that most of these cats originated from someone's pet who was dumped, got lost, or had a litter and went home. Cat licensing puts a bit more pressure on people to be better cat owners and consider things such as altering and it also reduces the number of nuisance cat complaints. For example, my neighbour's cat constantly poops in my garden, and it drives me nuts. I've had to deal with it by purchasing and installing a cover material the cat can't walk on. With a cat licensing system, I would have an avenue to complain and try to get it resolved and the onus would be on the owner, not me. Calgary's model has reduced the number of euthanized cats, as well, because of the reuniting factor. There are lots of posts out there about Calgary's system and its effectiveness (if you google "the calgary model animal control" you'll get a lot of hits). This one does a good job of explaining why it's working so well (although this article is dog focused): and one of the key points is that the dollars collected through their licensing and impoundment fees go directly back to animal services. So, if you think that say (I don't know, I'm just throwing this out there as a number) 30% of all of local residences have at least one cat, none of which are currently paying a license fee, that's an awful lot of revenue that can be generated to encourage responsible pet ownership. In Calgary, it's quite a small fee for an altered cat – around $20 annually I believe. The idea isn't to penalize pet owners, it's to ensure that people who want to have a companion animal are being responsible owners and considerate neighbours.

      And, just as a point, it has been my experience that some chip clinics will not do cats. Some do, depending upon how experienced the tech is though. Collars are also a poor way to ensure ID – most pet stores sell "breakaway" style collars for cats, and they come off easily on cats that are permitted to roam.

      1. Is there evidence backing up the idea that licensing makes neutering more common ? From what I recall, that was by far the largest single expense when I adopted my last cat. I could see some people deciding that they can't afford both.
        Seems that this sort of thing could easily become a "cat people" versus "dog people" thing (full disclosure – I currently only have cats, but have had dogs, too, in the past). It certainly wouldn't seem fair to me if a cat license was a similar cost to a dog license, given that the are city facilities provided for dogs but not for cats (you quoted $20 for a cat license in Calgary and $20 for a new dog license in New West – not quite apples-to-apples, but those are the numbers you gave).
        To be honest, I'm loathe to give any level of government yet another avenue for a "tax that doesn't look like a tax"…

        1. I agree that I'm loathe to pay another tax that doesn't look like a tax. I'm a cat and dog person myself – until Mooki I always had cats and Mooki is more or less a cat I have to walk. 🙂

          The system I'm proposing is that all the license fees collected stay in the animal services department, rather than sit in a giant pot that pays for things like, say, pot hole fixing and swimming pool upgrades. All good stuff, IMO. But because the city isn't aware of more accurate numbers of pets, the budget allocated for animals services is what it is, and our ACO's aren't really able to do a lot more than respond to complaints. I don't want to give the impression the shelter staff suck – they are really caring people who try hard with what they have. As well, people who don't own pets, don't want a pet, etc – they don't have to pay for the services they don't use because the licensing is what pays for the services they offer – not tax dollars.

          I was wrong – in Calgary, the cost to license a cat is actually $10 for an altered cat or $30 for an unaltered one.… In my most recent edition of the Record, I recall an ad by a local vet offering spays and neuters for cats at $45. In Calgary, you get a $250 fine for having an unlicensed pet, and they really mean it. (My sister in law is a former employee so we have had many chats about how the system works and she's told me some pretty amusing and heartwarming stories of lost pets). I'd rather pay $55 when I adopt a cat than $250 (plus, presumably, impound fees or if they order you to alter the cat plus the license they probably insist you buy). I'm generally a compliant person, and I'd rather pony up a few bucks at the start than find out the hard way, and I don't know that I'm alone. Many would. There's a bulleted list of what the license fees fund here:… and one of those components is a low cost spay/neuter clinic for eligible folks. They also have an I Heart My Pet Program which appears to give pet owners who elect to license their pet a discount at participating merchants and services. Seems kind of cool and would also support shopping locally –

          I can't find any specific studies suggesting the rate of altering went up when the system was introduced (I think they are out there but I don't have a lot of time to devote to hunting them down with Christmas coming!) – but I can find lots of mention of Calgary's system increasing compliance of all licensing (dogs and cats) and that it has decreased euthanizing animals left unclaimed. It's a proactive system, not a reactive system. Bill Bruce is the Calgary Animal Services head – here's a really interesting piece about him from Vancouver Magazine.

          In New Westminster, the fees are also on an altered/not altered scale plus they offer a discount if you buy it before a certain date:…. Here's our bylaws – in 400.5 there is a mention that residents are required to ensure their cats have ID on them at all times.

          Hope that helps!

  6. All this legal talk of licensing makes Mooki hungry, bring him by for a smoked bone it will let him know where to go if he gets free. The walk will do him good.

  7. Weighing in late here, but I definitely think cats should be licensed. As long as the New West Shelter continues to rescue and house stray cats, returning them to their owners if they can, then cat owners should also pay into the system, particularly if the cats are outdoor cats (but even indoor cats escape from time to time).

  8. If its mainly for stats and planning purposes, why not ask people to register their pets voluntarily at no cost online annually? There could be an education component about the City's services, and then the website could have a way for people to make a voluntary donation at the same time by Pay Pal or whatever to support services for pets and their owners in this city. There could also perhaps be an annual prize draw from amongst all registered pets of each type, and some fun publicity, to get people interested each year. I for one would donate more for the chance to have good dog park near me than I would happily pay for a dog license that frankly looks like a money grab on top of my already high property taxes. Just my 2 cents.

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