Pet Licensing Enforcement Threat Exposes Total Confusion


The City of Charleston says it’s going to start enforcing the local law requiring pet owners to license their dogs, cats and horses.

The law, which has been on the books since 1844, hasn’t been enforced much at all, except, perhaps, in cases in which an animal has attacked a person or another animal.  It has gone unenforced so completely, in fact, that almost no one knows that animals are supposed to be licensed!

Which means that those of us who are responsible pet owners and who wish to actually do what we’re supposed to do, now that someone has finally pointed out that there is such a requirement, are having a very hard time figuring out where to go to get the deed done.

I’ve called several local veterinarians, all of whom claimed to know absolutely nothing about the requirement, much less how to get started. I went to the City of Charleston’s website and found no mention. A search for “dog license” took me to a page on the Charleston Police department…about bicycle licenses.

But, wait…it gets worse!

One of the people interviewed in the news story I saw is the president of the Charleston Animal Society. He’s calling for stricter enforcement, explaining that his organization is having to bear the financial brunt of pets with no ID of any kind.

So you can imagine my surprise when I called the Charleston Animal Society and talked to a worker there who had absolutely no idea that dog licenses even existed in the city of Charleston! She did refer me to a rabies clinic the organization is holding in April and mentioned a $5 cost, but added, “Other than that, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I called the city and asked about animal licenses. They referred to animal control. Animal control referred me, oddly enough, to the police department. That operator told me that a dog license is five bucks, a one-time fee, which is more than reasonable. But the only way to get one is to drive down to police headquarters downtown. There’s nowhere else to go, and there’s no way to register on the web.

Come on, Charleston: you need to get this thing organized!

Before they start enforcing a law that seems to have gone completely ignored for years, they need to get their system together: at the very least, I should be able to go to the city’s website and find that a pet license is even a requirement. Then, there’s the matter of the veterinarians: there is absolutely no excuse for local veterinarians going uninformed of a pet licensing policy; they should be the city’s first defense! They should be the ones with a process by which pet owners can apply for a pet license when they bring their new pet to its first appointment.

When I lived in Richmond, certain local vets — not all, but at least enough of a variety that you could find one convenient to your area of town — actually handed out pet licenses. There, it was a yearly process, costing only about two or three bucks per year. But the process was easy, and guess what: more people’s pets were actually licensed.

What a concept!

Educate the vets, and the public will be educated right along with them. Empower the vets to make the process easier, and they’ll help spread the word and help the city bring in revenue. Allow them to charge up to a few bucks for the convenience and they’ll be more likely to get on board.

But if they’re suddenly going to increase efforts to enforce a law virtually no one knows about, I think it’s important that they make the law easy to comply with in the first place.

Maybe then they’ll get more of ghetto missing revenue faster.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.


  • Hey Patrick, I just got a new kitten and am in the process of doing the right thing: having it spayed (Bob Barker Award) and it will wear an annual rabies vaccination tag.

    I "assumed" a rabies tag is required by law…wonder if it is and is that enforced? That seems more of a health issue than merely a revenue source.

    Want to become the expert on these matters? Thanks.
    My recent post Kitty Boyd- a cats adventure

    • Chuck, congratulations on the new pet. Bob Barker would be so proud! 🙂

      As far as I know, most municipalities do require a rabies tag by law. Many do not require a pet license. I've never been anywhere that didn't have a specific requirement about the rabies vaccination, and I don't know of a place that doesn't require the tag to be displayed as confirmation of compliance.

      I've honestly never heard of animal control just randomly checking for rabies tags, except in cases in which a dog has bitten another dog or a person; then they're all over it.

  • Great piece, and nice job investigating the issue. This kind of thing is pretty common for bureaucracies, where the right hand and the left are entirely unaware of what the other is doing. Here's hoping they will sort this out before they start fining people for not having licenses for their pets.

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