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Cedar Rapids Moves to Require Dog and Cat Licensing

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Cedar Rapids pet owners may be required to license their dogs and cats under a proposal up for City Council consideration next week.

Residents may learn about and comment on the plan at a meeting Friday in the community room of Cedar Rapids police headquarters, 505 First St. SW. The two-hour meeting is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Diane Webber, the city's manager of animal care and control, expects the proposed changes to be on the council's agenda Tuesday.

Owners of spayed or neutered animals would get a break under the plan said Webber, who wrote the new rules after reviewing similar policies in cities across the country.

"When you have differential licensing, that helps encourage the spay/neuter of pets," Webber said. "Unaltered animals are the ones more likely to roam, as well as they're more likely to bite."

The plan calls for a $10 annual fee for "altered" (neutered or spayed) dogs and cats, $35 for unaltered animals. Residents 65 and over could get lifetime licenses for up to three cats or dogs per household. Owners must show their pets have had a rabies vaccination.

The city would outsource licensing and administration, with a contractor charging up to $5 additional per license.

A $10 fee would be assessed on licenses that aren't renewed by their annual deadline. A fine for owners who fail to license pets would also be part of the package, but its amount hasn't been determined.

Webber expects most owners will license their pets once they're aware of the requirement.

"I would think we'd get a pretty good grip on it the first year," she said. "Gradually, down the road it should help decrease the costs of animal control."

Animal Control officers would enforce the new law when they can find a stray's owner, and Webber said a licensing officer may go door-to-door as it takes effect.

"They don't issue tickets immediately," she said. "You're given 10 days to comply, and then we follow up. Definitely, there will have to be some very pro-active programs in place to make sure people come in compliance."

A 2007 city study projected a licensing program would raise about $60,000 a year, a number Webber called a still-valid "ballpark estimate" for the first year. The revenue would go toward the department's $650,000 annual budget.

"Any license fee collected will help offset what's taken out of the general fund to pay for animal control services," Webber said.

Webber said the city's contractor would offer registration by mail and online as well as at the Animal Control office.

"There would be a lot of different options available to them to make it the most convenient," she said.

Webber's changes would also ban leaving pets unattended in vehicles and drop the present requirement that a dog that bites a person be seized and impounded. Webber said a "potentially dangerous" designation would give staff more flexibility dealing with animals that may nip someone.

"Now, if your dog bites you basically have to turn it over," she said. "'Potentially dangerous' allows some room for accidents. It's a warning to an owner they may have to take some precautions with their dog."

Cedar Rapids had a licensing agreement but dropped it in the mid-1990s. Licensing was last considered in late 2007, and Webber said that plan's projected annual revenue has even been written into her department's budget ever since, but has never been collected.

"The flood kind of put a halt to it," she said.

Iowa City charges owners $5 a year for altered animals, $30 for unaltered. The charges in North Liberty are $2 and $25 respectively. Marion doesn't require dogs and cats be licensed.

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