Friday, August 22, 2008

Lost Dog alert--and a new Dog Friendly Link

Got this off the Inwoof forum--somebody lost their dog.


PHONE: 917 224-1403

Hopefully he has some ID tags on that collar, as well as a license. Personally, we never want Max to only have a license tag--if he's lost, I want whoever finds him to call me, not the city.

Still, I believe in dog licensing. It's hard to explain why, really. The tag sucks for ID purposes--no name, no phone number (except 311), and there have been instances where lost dogs with license tags went to city shelters and were put down by mistake. A personal ID tag costs less than a dog license, microchipping costs considerably more, but both do a far better job than a dog license in terms of getting your dog back home to you in one piece.

The city doesn't currently ticket people for not having their dogs licensed. Mayor Bloomberg says it's just too much trouble for too little benefit, and he's right (for once). So what do you get for your $8.50 ($11.50 if your dog's reproductive apparati are intact)? Not much of anything, but I still believe in it.

"The badge of faith and respectability" Jock the Scottish Terrier calls a dog license in "Lady and the Tramp", and while no real dog ever actually thought of it as such, Jock had a point. Dog licenses are one big reason why dogs have a higher status in human society than any other commonly kept animal. There are many other and more important reasons, to be sure, and it could be argued the other way--we license dogs (and almost never cats) because we have such an unusually high regard for them. And because a dog is a member of society in a way cats and other pets usually aren't.

And, more negatively, because people were scared of aggressive or even rabid dogs, back when dog licensing became commonplace. There was a time when meeting a big unleashed dog (or a pack of them) just trotting down a Manhattan street was a common occurrence, and a pleasant time that must have been in many ways, but it had its downsides as well, we can be sure.

The licensing system was there as part of an overall public scheme to encourage everyone to keep their dogs under better control--and much later on, to get people to inoculate their dogs against rabies, once an effective affordable vaccine was widely available. People were motivated to license their dogs by the simple fact that an unlicensed dog was subject to being summarily carted off by the dog catcher, and you'd have to pay a hefty fine to get him back--assuming he wasn't simply executed for the crime of being unlicensed, which happened quite a lot. And still does, of course. But back then, it was often worth a dog's life to be wandering about without a license, even if he had a home and a human family who loved him.

So slowly, grudgingly, dog owners conformed to what society demanded of them. The first to do so, of course, were the ones who were most attached to their companions, and least inclined to regard them as easily replaceable--they also had to have the extra money to spend on a license, of course. There's always the class element. You could get rid of a lot of poor people's dogs by making the license fee a bit too high--dog licensing didn't always serve all levels of society equally.

If you licensed your dog to avoid the grim scenario of incarceration/execution, you'd be more careful about how he behaved, and who he did or didn't bite, because you had formally accepted responsibility for his actions. That was the scheme, and a successful scheme at that, since canine rabies has been declared eliminated from North America, and it's pretty rare these days to hear of some Manhattanite being molested by a mess of mutts (though there are reportedly still packs of feral dogs in Northern Manhattan). It was so successful, in fact, that one could argue that all the tangible social benefits of dog licensing have basically disappeared, and we don't need it anymore.

However, I think licensing did something a bit more nebulous and symbolic, in the process of solving a public health crisis--it sent a message that you don't just get a dog on a whim--that owning a dog (or having a dog own you) is a serious responsibility, and should be taken seriously. That doesn't stop a lot of people from behaving irresponsibly, of course--no more than gun licensing stops shootings, or car licensing stops accidents. And don't ask me why nobody has to get a bicycle license in this city.

We resent it a little, maybe--a dog isn't an object, like a gun or a car. Love your Luger or your Lexus all you like; it'll never love you back. A dog is a member of your family, and he knows it. No piece of stamped metal is going to make you love your dog any more, care for him any better, grieve for him any harder. But by getting that license, we're making a statement. We're saying, to all the world, that this animal isn't just some hanger-on, some careless fancy we can discard at will. We're saying to all the world that DOGS MATTER.

And I think that's one big reason that in this current economy, with people just walking away from homes and leaving animals behind, we're hearing about a lot more cats being abandoned than dogs. It's one reason we hear about cats being horribly senselessly abused a lot more often than dogs. Because we don't license cats in most municipalities, and that sends a different message.

And since I do ultimately think a cat is no less a member of someone's family than a dog (and it's past time to lift that ridiculous NYC ban on ferrets), I believe in extending the licensing system to other domestic animals. It may not give us any kind of tangible benefit, but the intangibles are often more important when it comes to social bonds. Why else would people make such a fuss about the distinction between marriage and 'civil unions', and fight so bitterly over who gets which, when it amounts to the same thing in practical terms? The intangibles matter, damn it.

And that is why I have made another new addition to the Dog Friendly Links section of this blog, that you will see over to your right. Let us be frank--New York City's Department of Health SUCKS TO HELL at licensing dogs. You send in your check, and wait months for that tag to arrive. They are much too underbudgeted and overburdened to even send you a renewal form these days--you just have to get the form yourself. Small wonder the majority of New York City dogs aren't licensed.

But now they're finally trying something different--online dog licensing. Will it work? I have no idea. I just renewed Max's license the old fashioned way--wish I'd waited a little longer, so I could give you a report. But I'd sure be grateful if anybody who tries it out sends me a report.

More updates coming--photos, an upcoming parks meeting, and plenty more. And be on the lookout for Rex, huh? But if you find him, don't call 311. I believe in the system, for all its flaws, but the system helps best those that help themselves, whenever possible.


Kristin said...

My name is Krissy and my yellow lab Barley and I just moved to the area. I registered Barley online and it was a simple process.

Two comments on the site:
1. Even though Barley is neutered, because I was registering him here for the first time, I was charged the $11.50, rather than the $8.50.
2. The only accepted payment type is a credit card, and they charged me $.69 as a credit card processing fee. Silly.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for Rex. See you at the park and the run!

Chris said...

Wow, Kristin--didn't expect a report so soon. Thanks so much for letting us know it works--though have you actually received the tag in the mail yet? If so, how long did you have to wait?

I shouldn't be surprised about the credit card processing fee, but I guess that doesn't cost much more than a stamp does these days.

If they start getting a lot more people using this system, I'd expect them to raise the license fee--the city is strapped for cash. And they know we will shell out for our pups.

Looking forward to the first meeting of Barley and Max. I'm almost tempted to change his name to Mash, in honor of the occasion. ;)