After years of ignoring it, or giving excuses why nothing could be done, the city of Schenectady is finally starting to do something about its dog problem. Although the impetus came from City Hall, particularly City Clerk Chuck Thorne’s office, most of the work will be done under the auspices (and budget) of the police department. Not only is that appropriate (dog laws are in place to protect public health and safety, and need to be enforced), it makes the effort more likely to succeed.
The immediate aim is to make sure all dogs in the city are counted and licensed, with up-to-date rabies vaccinations — i.e. under administrative control. That’s being done with a multifaceted approach that includes code enforcement officers identifying unlicensed dogs when they do their neighborhood sweeps and inspections and telling the owners they have 21 days to get a license or be fined. And with police department signs like the one at the dog park in Central Park last week that said, “License your dog. Please!” And, coming soon, a dog census conducted by enumerators who will go door to door, counting dogs, seeing how many are licensed and have rabies vaccinations.
This is the census that Thorne requested last fall, but the City Council, for budgetary reasons and concerns about the enumerators’ safety, has resisted. It is an essential first step, though, and the enumerators should be OK if they’re trained to avoid confrontations and the police are prepared to back them up. The McCarthy administration deserves credit for going ahead with the census, using unspent money from the police department budget to hire enumerators.
How many dogs live in the city now? No one knows. How many are licensed? Just 1,500 or so, compared to 8,000 in the mid-1980s. It’s doubtful that there are fewer dogs than then (likely many more); the difference is that their owners aren’t bothering to license them. That’s true both for previously licensed dogs, since the state Department of Agriculture and Markets stopped sending out renewal notices a few years ago, and those never licensed. For owners of the latter group, because the city doesn’t even know their dogs exist and hasn’t made the effort to find them, there are no consequences — unless the dog bites or mauls another dog, or person, not uncommon occurrences in Schenectady.
These are the folks the city wants to license their dogs for the first time, a key step in responsible pet ownership. And increased license fees and fines for noncompliance can help pay for more vigorous dog law enforcement. The cost and nuisance of getting a license and rabies vaccinations — along with the likelihood of getting in trouble with the law if they can’t or won’t control their dog — should discourage irresponsible people from having one.
The final welcome step in the city’s animal control effort is the police department’s soon-to-open doggie lockup in an unused building at the wastewater treatment plant on Anthony Street. This will allow the city to pick up more strays and house them, without having to wait for room at local animal shelters, or pay to transport or house them there. Even though it will require hiring a couple of part-time workers, it will save money.
The city should also consider tougher laws for owners of vicious dogs, as Rotterdam is now doing, but it is on the right track with these measures.