Making Sparky legal: Ohio Dog laws

licenses, leashes and rabies shots

A generation or two ago, owning a dog was a simpler matter. License laws weren't enforced, few people complained when Sparky ran loose, and no one worried about litters of pups born under the porch or in the upstairs closet.

Things are different in these latter years of the century: dog wardens pick up stray dogs and cart them off to a shelter; neighbors resent canine calling cards in their lawns and gardens; and spay or neuter your pet is the slogan du jour. Unwanted litters have decreased dramatically, but dogs are still running loose and dog owners are still skirting the law that requires annual licenses for their four-legged friends.

Ohio law

Ohio law requires dogs to be licensed in the county of residence and to under the control of the owner at all times. License renewals are due between December 1-January 20; new licenses must be obtained within 30 days of arrival in the county or when a puppy reaches the age of three months. License programs are administered by county auditors; license fees are set by the commissioners according to a formula set by the state.

License money is deposited in the dog and kennel fund to pay farmers for livestock lost to unidentified dogs, finance the administration of the program, and fund the incarceration of stray dogs for five days (unlicensed) or 14 days (licensed).

The law also requires dog to be under the control of their owners at all times. Loose dogs can be impounded and the owners cited for violation. About 2.2 million stray dogs enter animal shelters each year, and only about 600 thousand are returned to their owners. Many dogs never find their way home because they lack identification, and the best bargain in town for identification is the state-mandated dog license.

Some counties have separate animal control agencies, but many contract with an animal shelter to house the strays. Larger counties tend to choose separate agencies; Montgomery County (Dayton, Ohio); Lucas County (Toledo, Ohio); and Franklin County (Columbus, Ohio) all operate an animal control division separate from the county humane society. Some counties have integrated programs in which the dog wardens and the humane society share facilities but are compensated separately. Hamilton (Cincinnati. Ohio) and Clermont (Near Cincinnati) counties are even more closely tied; both have animal control programs run by the local humane society.

License fees near Cincinnati range from $8 (Franklin County) to $12 (Lucas County), with most set at $10. Hamilton County's license fee is $9.

License campaigns

A dog license is your pet's ticket home if he gets lost. Even homebody dogs can get out an open door or gate, so even if Buffy never leaves home by design, she can still get out accidentally.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes is depending on this message to increase license compliance in Hamilton County to cover an increase in contract costs for the dog wardens to impound and house stray dogs at the Hamilton County SPCA.

“We haven't done a good job over the years,” Rhodes said. “We want to make sure that people realize that they get a license for their dog.”

The Hamilton County SPCA has administered the dog license program for several years. Last year, Rhodes expressed dissatisfaction with the program, revoked the dog warden's deputy auditor commission, and resumed direct control of the licensing program. After overhauling the system to make it easier for owners to license their dogs, he instituted “Dusty's Dogs,” a 24-hour hotline that makes it easier to get lost dogs back home. The key is the license tag: if anyone finds a dog wearing a current license tag, he can dial 946-DOGS, punch the license number into the telephone keypad, and get the name, address, and telephone number of the owner. The 1997 license tags are imprinted with the hotline number.

The new contract between the Hamilton County Commissioners and the SPCA includes a raise of $7200 per month; the SPCA will get $45,200 per month retroactive to January 1 to carry out the dog warden's responsibilities. If license compliance is not increased considerably, the money will either come from the county's general fund or a license fee increase.

Hamilton County has a population of about 866 thousand residents and about 53,500 licensed dogs. Montgomery County's population is about 574 thousand residents and more than 60 thousand licensed dogs. Rhodes hopes that an educational campaign will boost license sales so that the county's responsibilities will be met without increasing fees.

“If we can increase the number of dogs licensed, that will be helpful, ” he said, “but we're going to fight tooth and nail to keep it (at the current rate). I'd love to see us up to 70 or 75 thousand licensed dogs. We're real serious about this. I'd like to make this the premier program in the state.”

Clermont County, Ohio

Clermont County Commissioners just raised the license fee from $8 to $10 because compliance in the county is not enough to fund the work of the dog warden.

Last fall, the county commissioners ceded responsibility for animal control to the Clermont County Humane Society in a deal that requires the organization to vacate the current shelter on Filager Road by the end of 1997. The society has proposed renovation of the abandoned IGA store outside Amelia as a new shelter.

But CCHS faces other problems as a result of the switch. The experienced team of dog wardens resigned when the transfer of authority was made and it took several months to replace them. The financial problems involved in searching for a new shelter site and paying for renovations are difficult ones of the society.

In the past — except for the 1996 license year — the county has not sent license renewal forms, so compliance with the law has been sparse. Dog wardens have gone door-to-door to increase compliance, but the numbers are still low — fewer than 20,000 licensed dogs in a county of 150,000 residents.


Failure to license a dog in Ohio results in a citation for violation of the law. Cost of the citation varies by county but can be as much as $75 — not counting the cost of a license. In addition, if the dog is picked up as a stray because the owner failed to keep it under control, the warden issues a second citation and the SPCA levies board fees for the number of days the dog is in the shelter. Licenses purchased after the renewal period or as a result of violation are double the cost.

Although most counties do not have the staff to actively search out license scofflaws, complaints about stray dogs can bring a neighborhood or community crackdown. Residents in the Cincinnati suburb of Terrace Park reported problems caused by loose dogs, so dog wardens checked about a dozen homes and issued several $68 citations for failure to license. In the days following the warden visits, Terrace Park residents hurried to buy their licenses.

Rhodes said he would like to increase compliance with education, not a visit from a dog warden, but said he will use them if necessary to increase awareness that licenses are required by law. The alternative to increased compliance is another source of revenue for state-mandated dog control — increased fees or an allocation of funds from the county's budget.

Rabies vaccinations

Ohio law does not require rabies vaccination of dogs unless they have bitten someone and no proof of rabies vaccination is available. Dog bites are reported to the health department, and the dog is placed under quarantine for 10 days. Following the quarantine period, the dog owner must show proof of rabies vaccination.

Health departments in each county can require that dogs be vaccinated against rabies. In October, the Hamilton County Board of Health adopted a resolution that requires rabies vaccination for all dogs and cats more than three months old. The animal must be given a booster vaccination one year later, but subsequent boosters can be up to three years later.

Veterinarians are required to provide rabies tags to the animal owner and to keep records of rabies vaccinations that can be made available to the health commissioner on request. Dog and cat owners are also required to provide a copy of a rabies vaccination certificate to the health department upon request.

If a pet bites a person or another animal and is suspected of being rabid, the health commissioner can allow the owner to keep his pet in strict quarantine for a minimum of six months. If the animal dies during the quarantine, the head must be made available for rabies testing. If the animal does not show signs of rabies, it must be vaccinate at least a month before the end of the quarantine.

Animals must wear their tags; those that are found off their owner's property without a tag can be impounded.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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