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Long Beach checks for unlicensed dogs

Animal control officers go door to door, looking for pets without tags and finding many. Area also covers Cerritos, Seal Beach and Signal Hill.

February 17, 2009|Bob Pool

Long Beach is going to the dogs.

And as they knock on doors around there and in nearby Cerritos, Seal Beach and Signal Hill in an usual hunt for canine scofflaws, about the only excuse authorities haven't heard yet is that Fido ate the license notice.

Animal control workers are going house-to-house in search of unlicensed dogs in what is turning into an unusual census of the area's dog population.

And they are hearing every other conceivable explanation as to why pet pooches don't have proper tags attached to their collars.

"We've heard all of the excuses -- 'I didn't know I had to get a license every year,' 'I forgot,' 'I can't afford it,' 'We didn't get a notice,' 'I thought the license from another city was valid," said Christopher Davis, a license inspector with Long Beach's Animal Care Services Bureau.

"They're surprised that their vet reported the dog to the city, as is required by law. Some ask if they can get a discount because their dog is a senior."

Authorities commissioned the survey after calculating that half of the estimated 70,000 dogs in the four cities are not licensed.

On the street, members of the canine census crew carry computer printouts listing names and addresses of those who have previously licensed their dogs with the Long Beach agency.

As they walk up and down the streets, officers also watch for animals that have not been registered and do not show up on their lists.

Scofflaws are easy to spot.

"You walk up to a house and you hear barking coming from inside, you pretty much have a good clue," said surveyor Jose Cueva, a Los Angeles County animal control officer.

"The majority of dog owners without licenses will say they didn't know they needed to have one. One lady said she'd had her animals for 13 years without a license. I told her that I guess her streak was over."

Cueva was on Montair Avenue in a tree-lined neighborhood near the Long Beach Airport. Many people were not home when he rang their doorbells. He would return that Saturday to try again, he said.

Two small dogs, barking loudly, bounded to a front gate when Cueva approached one house. A young woman stepped outside and explained that her mother handled matters involving the dogs. Cueva handed her literature that explained the licensing rules and asked her to pass them along.

Down the street, he noticed two other dogs visible through a picture window, sitting on the back of a living room couch. A man there said that his wife was in charge, but was not home. Cueva gave him licensing information to give her.

Many of the dog owners he comes across are irritated that they have been found out, he said.

"Some people consider the license a tax," Cueva said. "I tell them it's a way to keep shelters functioning for animals that aren't as lucky as theirs are."

Licenses from Long Beach's Animal Care Services Bureau cost $20 a year for dogs that have been spayed or neutered. The fee shoots up to $90 for dogs that are not altered. (Fees vary for dogs in other jurisdictions.) The registration process requires owners to provide proof that their pets have been vaccinated for rabies.

Animal control services for Long Beach and neighboring areas are operated from the P.D. Pitchford Animal Companion Village. Officers share space at the sprawling Spring Street compound with the SPCA-LA humane society group.

The dog census is being undertaken with the help of Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control. The $116,000 county cost is being covered by new revenues generated by the license fees: The survey is paying for itself.

The door-to-door count began in December and was preceded by a lengthy public education campaign, said John Keisler, manager of Animal Care Services for Long Beach.

Mailings to residents who had previously registered their dogs but let the license lapse urged them to renew and avoid late penalties. Those penalties start at $30 and can rise to as much as $600 if officials have to go to court for compliance.

A stampede to the Spring Street compound began once the door-knocking started. Nearly 5,000 unlicensed dogs so far have been registered -- a 53% increase over a similar period a year ago.

Some days "30 or 40 people are in line" when the license renewal window opens for business, Keisler said.

One of them was Jackie Vilar, who was there to renew the license for her husky, Powder. She said she did not wait for an inspector to show up at her Seal Beach door.

"If they'd knocked, I'd have wanted to know how they knew I had a dog," Vilar said.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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