County Looks to Take Over Dog Licensing

By Beacon Staff

There is an effort underway to consolidate the administration of dog licenses and tags among the county and the local cities, which officials say would help streamline the process for pet owners and animal control in Flathead County.

According to Joe Russell, the administrator for the Flathead City-County Health Department, a singular licensing program run by the Flathead County Animal Shelter would make sense and would allow more efficiency. This, in turn, would likely lead to more licenses being issued for dogs, he said.

The current law in Flathead County mandates that dogs over the age of four months that live on county lands must be licensed after they receive their rabies shots. A county license costs $15 for spayed or neutered dogs, and $30 for unfixed dogs. Kalispell and Whitefish also have licensing programs.

A central program with similar nomenclature would benefit dog owners and the animal shelter, Russell said, because the system would be easier to negotiate and the money would go toward the Flathead’s only municipal dog shelter, which is county run.

Columbia Falls does not have a dog-licensing program, Russell said, but he interprets that to mean the animals should be licensed as county dogs.

In order to make one centralized program, the cities and the county would enter into an interlocal agreement, which Russell said he’s had prepared since the last calendar year.

Russell approached the county commission about the agreement toward the end of March, and the discussion included talking about whether the county would be responsible for enforcing municipal dog ordinances as well.

Both Russell and a deputy county attorney assured the commission that ordinance enforcement would not be part of the agreement.

“This is clearly about identification of dogs through licensure,” Russell said in an interview.

But even so, a single licensing program could help the Kalispell animal warden and county animal control officers handle cases when their jurisdiction overlaps, Russell said.

“Our wardens end up in Kalispell at times,” Russell said.

Kalispell would benefit because more dogs would get licensed, and the county would benefit because it would get reimbursed for its outreach through the licensing fees, Russell said.

Whitefish has an agreement with Flathead County when it comes to animal control, Russell said, but if the other municipalities wanted a similar arrangement there would have to be a different interlocal agreement.

Overall, Russell said the more dogs that are licensed in the county, the less taxpayers have to pay to directly support the county animal shelter.

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