POOCH PATROL SNIFFS OUT UNLICENSED-DOG OWNERS - The Buffalo News

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POOCH PATROL SNIFFS OUT UNLICENSED-DOG OWNERS

The dog days of summer hit Buffalo neighborhoods last week.

The city's dog license enforcement troops, armed with citation booklets and protective mace, set out on their season-long task of canvassing the city's 85,000 residences.

Their mission: To put a leash on dog owners who fail to register and license their pets.

"We just had to do it again after watching the number of licensed dogs declining constantly," said City Clerk Charles Michaux. "Dog licensing is one of the state-mandated functions of this office."

The city's 12-member team began by focusing its enforcement efforts on the Lower West Side, handing out scores of $11 fines to non-compliant dog owners.

The city clerk's office hopes to recoup money lost from a drop of nearly 5,000 licenses since the last canvassing took place two years ago.

"We know there are not that many less dogs out there," Michaux said.

William Golden of Buffalo, one of the dog license enforcement officers, admits his job does have its stresses -- such as being cursed at and threatened by angry dog owners or chased by the animals themselves. But he said the message he and his partners bring to city doorsteps is really quite simple.

"We don't care what type of dog it is. All that we care about is the license. Show us the license," Golden said. "If they don't have a license, we proceed to give them a citation."

The officers, dressed in white polo shirts and hats that identify them as city dog license enforcement personnel, knock at the door of every house not listed on an itemized sheet of the city's licensed dogs.

Usually, that alone reveals whether a potentially unlicensed dog is housed there.

"The funny thing is, the dogs or the neighbors tell on themselves," Golden said. "We knock at the doors and the dogs bark. We had one lady point out every dog on the block."

The team, which is expected to cover the city's 720 miles of streets on foot before the end of the summer, has been doing a brisk business. It dished out a few dozen citations each day last week, said John Verbocy, a 14-year veteran supervisor of the enforcement patrol.

That number can climb to as high as 80 in one day, depending on the day or area of the city.

The East Side and West Side traditionally house the highest number of unlicensed dogs, while residents in North and South Buffalo seem more responsive to licensing their animals, Michaux said.

George Gill, who lives at 481 Rhode Island St., was one of those unsuspecting city dog owners who received a citation, but he agrees with the city's effort.

"If that's the way it's got to be, that's the way it's got to be," Gill said. "It's good they're doing it, really, it will keep down the dogs running around." I don't want (my) dog to bite anyone without (it having) a license anyways."

Gill said he intends to pay the fine and get a license for Wolf, his shepherd-husky mix.

His neighbor, Tina Talarico of 475 Rhode Island, also was cited for not having a license for Jake, a shepherd-rottweiler she has had for more than a year.

Ms. Talarico said she was only responsible for getting the dog's vaccinations, which she did.

"My boyfriend was supposed to get the license. If he didn't, he's going to pay (the fine)," she said.

The 1996 effort covered only about one-third of the city and eventually generated about 2,500 new licenses, according to Michaux. This year, Michaux's office has hired triple the number of seasonal workers to target the entire city.

The whole program is expected to cost the city about $40,000 this year and will be funded from a pool of about $200,000 generated through the collection of dog-licensing fees.

Licensing dogs is important because it significantly reduces the potential for rabid dogs roaming city streets and allows the city to track missing or lost animals.

By law, the city is permitted to destroy or sell dogs that have been at its pound for more than 72 hours.

With the pound currently filled to capacity, and the number of dogs coming in expected to increase as residents drop off their unlicensed pets, city officials will be forced to euthanize many of the animals.

Michaux estimates that about 5,000 dogs are destroyed annually at the city pound.

The price of licenses ranges from $12.50 for each spayed or neutered dog to $20.50 for dogs that have not been spayed or neutered.

The fines for unlicensed dogs begin at $11, double to $22 if not paid after 10 days and can reach as high as $250.

Michaux expects that about 7,000 citations will be issued during over the eight-week program -- citations that the city intends to track closely to recoup fines it is owed.

"I hope we don't have to write that many, but we probably will, and the city is certainly going to take a more aggressive approach to collecting fines as part of this program," the city clerk said.

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