Budget bite may spike dog costs

A big bite out of the animal control budget could led to higher dog license fees.

On Feb. 4 the Hood River County Commission was scheduled will consider an increase in the annual cost of dog tags and "bail" to offset a sharp spike for impound services.

County officials will also be taking a hard look at forming a citizen advisory committee to revisit mothballed plans for local kennel space.

On the drawing table is a proposal by the Sheriff's Office to raise the current $7 fee for spay/neutered canines to $9, and from $20 to $25 for unaltered animals. Under that proposal the senior citizen discount for licenses will rise from $3 to $5 for spay/neutered dogs and from $15 to $17 for those not fixed.

"If you haven't gotten a tag for your dog yet this would be a good time to get legal," said Undersheriff Dwayne Troxel.

The suggested hike in fees follows this week's announcement by the Wasco County Animal Shelter that charges were going up about 52 percent for use of the facility. In 1995 the county contracted to impound stray and vicious dogs there after a local pet store relocated and was no longer able to provide kennel space.

Troxel said the county transports an average of 20 canines per month to the shelter in The Dalles. The current monthly payment to Wasco County is $250 for the first seven canines and $25 for each animal over that limit, plus a $5 per day boarding fee. However, the fee increases will bring that amount up to $1,000 per month for the first 15 dogs and $25 for each additional canine, plus a $10 daily rooming charge.

Troxel expects the new fee increases to generate about $6,000 in annual revenue. He said without the fee increase it will be difficult to fund the county's animal enforcement arm since dog licensing is down about 20 percent this year. He said many pet owners have gotten out of the habit of buying tags and, as a result, Animal Control Officer Becky Hoffman is routinely picking up "repeat offenders" wandering at large through area neighborhoods.

To save costs and manpower, the sheriff's office is also asking that the cost to free impounded dogs start at $20 and be graduated up to a maximum of $100 during a 12 month period.

At its Feb. 4 meeting, the county board will determine whether a citizen advisory committee should be appointed to review options for building a Hood River shelter or arranging with a local veterinarian to add kennel space to existing facilities.

The county had previously set aside $30,000 of seed money for that project and an additional $8,000 was raised during a community-wide fundraising drive between 1996 and 1999. That effort died away after the committee encountered numerous obstacles, including lengthy debate over the most suitable location for the shelter.

In the end, the county determined it would be cheaper to utilize the services provided by Wasco County, especially if it had to hire extra staffers to run a local facility.

However, Sue Guenther, chair of the former Animal Management Advisory Committee, believes that if the county establishes a shelter in Hood River the operating costs will not outweigh the current rental fees since enforcement will be more effective.

"You're better off to be in control of the situation at your end than to always be looking for a solution to the problem," she said.

Troxel said the citizen advisory group could also be called on to help update the county's animal control ordinance. He said the current code does not include new state laws, including the provision that farmers can shoot to kill any dog caught in the act of attacking their livestock.

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