• 68°

Fight the law, get bitten

Failure to buy dog tags could mean jail time.

Failure to buy dog tags could mean jail time.

Lauren Simmons’ hands went up to her face in surprise when County Auditor Jason Stephens said her essay about her Boston terrier won the county’s inaugural Top Dog contest.

The Dawson-Bryant fourth-grader’s reward for winning this past December was a trophy and a dog tag engraved with the legend “No. 1,” good for all of 2014.

The contest was used to promote the start of the annual sale of dog tags that brings in the almost $160,000 budget for the county animal shelter. Also by putting out the $12 fee for a yearlong tag owners help the dog warden reunite them with their pets after they dig under a fence or shoot out the front door chasing the mailman.

But what many dog owners may not know is that violet metal tag is also their ticket to stay out of the county jail because failure to buy the tiny disk could send an owner there for almost 30 days.

“(Anyone violating the statutes) shall be fined not less than $25 or more than $100 on a first offense and on each subsequent offense shall be fined not less than $75 or more than $250 and may be imprisoned for not more than 30 days,” according to Ohio Revised Code.

It’s the law. But Lawrence County Dog Warden Bill Click estimates only 1 percent of dog owners in Lawrence County pay any attention to it. Right now 9,300 tags have been sold this year, but Click says there are closer to 20,000 dogs in the county.

“According to Ohio law when a dog is licensed, it becomes classed as real property,” Click said. “That dog has personality after that. That identification is a big difference from a dog running around. It makes a huge difference.”

Every tag is logged with the owner’s name and address so a missing dog can get back to its owner.

“That tag is his ticket home,” Click said. “Every time I get a licensed dog, I can look it up on my laptop and I take it home.”

From Dec. 1 through Jan. 31, dog tags go on sale at the county auditor’s office and various locations around the county. Cost is $12 for the year. If the animal is spayed or neutered, there is a $2 discount.

“But we have a lot of people who are dodging on our dog tags,” Click said. “It is an honorable thing to buy your dog tags. We are protecting the public safety.”

Finding out how much clout he actually has to enforce those statutes is why Click went to county prosecuting attorney Brigham Anderson for an opinion. In turn Anderson requested an opinion from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

“The dog warden asked us for a clarification,” Anderson said. “The way it is written it is not really clear on the dog warden’s authority. When I looked at it, it was difficult to determine what the law is. That is why I requested the opinion.”

That request resulted in a five-page opinion from DeWine that states “R.C. 955.12 confers the power to arrest for violations of the provisions which he is charged with enforcing upon the county dog warden. … We therefore conclude that a county dog warden is required to issue citations for failure to register a dog when the offense is a first offense. For subsequent violations the offense is an unclassified misdemeanor, for which there is no statutory authority for a county dog warden to issue a citation in lieu of an arrest.”

But arresting dog owners is not what Click wants to do. He just wants owners to buy their tags because he knows what it was like when there wasn’t a tag system.

“There would be stray dogs everywhere,” he said. “We have gotten that under control in this past 20 to 25 years. They used to be running loose in this county in packs.”

That meant calls at 2 o’clock in the morning for Click by farmers who found strays killing their goats or sheep.

“You can’t blame the animal for killing your livestock because it is starving to death,” he said. “I don’t get those any more. We seldom see stray dogs running loose in the county.”