Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Michigan- Dog License Renewal Arrest – the Lunacy of Bureaucracy

Final update 7-9-15

In a second email from Kalamazoo County - the details were more complete - including text below for edification.

The warrant was a result of ignoring the numerous warnings and requests to comply. She was warned that charges would be filed and was given several chances to avoid the outcome. She could have purchased the license any time with late fees but she ignored the warnings. Her mistake was once she was informed that she had the warrant (filed a month before she purchased the license), instead of calling us or the prosecutor’s office to see if charges could be dropped (which we do all the time), she went to the Sheriff’s dept. She basically turned herself in. They do not care if she purchased her license or not, she had a warrant signed by a judge in the system so they have to process her and release her with a court date to go before the judge who signed the warrant. They did their job. The prosecutor dropped the charges as we would do for anyone who complies with the law. She put herself in the situation by choosing to ignore the requests and the warnings. We have over 32,000 people who comply each year either purchasing their licenses on time or by paying the late fee when given a warning.


In my reply, I noted that the woman actually followed the letter of the law, and turned herself in, not thinking of trying to get out of the warning. Understanding that this is a state law and the county is following rules – therefore there is zero blame on either side - It is the process put in force by the State that might be tweaked. One disagrees with the current process, which if streamlined, would save the county/city/state taxpayer funds, and if incentivized, might get more people to license their dogs (one might believe that there may be more than 32,000 dog owners in that county). The fees are, in this mind, punishment enough, and an incentive to provide dogs with their vaccinations. However, with the health of animals, the economy, especially for those who are on fixed incomes, some suggestions for all states/counties/municipalities requiring dog license: Take a $1.00 from each fee to put towards a local project: fence in a section of a city park for a dog park, if one is in place, work with local veterinarians to offer discounted vaccinations, reduce fees for those seniors who are on a tight bidet while offering the same benefit(s) provided. Allow additional “donations” to be made towards: vaccinations, spay and neuter or other perks and leave that in the local hands. There are always those dog owners who will comply as well as make sure their animals health is primary, however there are those who may not have the wherewithal, or care to do the same. Working with the state and local licensing options might literally kill two birds with one stone. If one must face licensing (fees = taxes) in states already burdened with excessive instances of fees and taxes, it would be worth getting something back in the community that benefits everyone, but especially the pups.

Update 7-8-15

An email was duly received by Kalamazoo County upon a suggestion that perhaps the county might try options such as additional fees rather than jail time for the heinous offense of failure to pay one’s dog license fee on time and save a few bucks in the process - The defense:

“Thank you for your suggestion. There already are late fees for dog licenses. The dog license law is a state law and a misdemeanor. The dog owner received a reminder in the beginning of the dog license season, a delinquent notice after March 1st, two visits to her house with cards left explaining the potential outcome of a warrant and or the seizure of her dog if she does not comply, and two phone calls, one with the owner, and one with a message giving her a deadline or a charging request would be submitted. The warrant was not a surprise to her, and was approved and submitted by the prosecuting attorney. Most people who forget or are late, pay the late fee and move on. The dog owner did not purchase a 2014 license and only had to purchase a 2015 license for $10.00. We wish everyone purchased their dog license on time, and most of the 32,000 people who purchase their licenses, do it on time. This was an unfortunate situation, but the dog owner had the ability to prevent it from happening. Thank you again for your suggestion.”


Background: From CBS Detroit: “Becky Rehr says she drove to the Kalamazoo County sheriff’s office June 23 to prove that she’s recently renewed the license for the family’s 11-year-old dog, Dexter. Rehr’s 14-year-old daughter waited in the car as her mother was arrested, fingerprinted and held for three hours, The Kalamazoo Gazette said.

“They frisked me and put me in this intake cell with all these inmates in orange jumpsuits,” Rehr said. “I was pretty nervous.” Failure to license a dog is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and $100 fine. County animal control Director Steve Lawrence said his office gave the 47-year-old Cooper Township woman numerous phone, mail and in-person notices of the need to renew the license. The last was a phone warning that a warrant would be requested unless she got a license by May 28.

“We prefer not for this stuff to go to court,” Lawrence told The Associated Press. “It’s just a $10 license. For some reason, some people like to make it hard for themselves.”

Rehr said she had “every intention of taking care of it. But with the end of the school year and my job, it just totally got put on the back burner.”
(CBS Detroit)

Here’s the take from this dog owner, dog licensee and previous “late fee” payer: when one receives a notice in the mail, or notices left on doors, or calls to answering machines, and one is harried, so to speak, one might take note and then when more pressing matters arise, put off the one that seems least damaging at the time. One might expect a little prosecutorial discretion, especially, when one does show up to pay the fee, granted late and has proof of said payment in hand. Given how the states generally allow criminals who have committed serious crimes prosecutorial discretion (See recent murders, rapes, you name it, by repeat offenders) it makes one wonder why the State and County in this case, decided to go the full length of the law over a $10.00 dog license. Perhaps it was to teach a lesson, use the poor woman as an example, so that other dog owners in the county and state would not be one minute late in getting in those fees (taxes). One might think that had she delayed a bit longer a swat team may have been deployed. From a PR standpoint, it was not the right move, from a fiscal standpoint, the county far outspent the value of that $10.00 fee, even if there was $100 in late fees attached. Senseless.

We reside in the Land of the free - unless one breaks a petty city, town or county ordinance such as renewing one’s dog license: Take the jail time, frisking and humiliation of a Kalamazoo County, MI woman who, went to renew her dog’s license, granted late, and ended up jailed for a few hours. (Detroit CBS Local). The punishment, in this case, does not appear to fit the crime, and with dog license fees set a $10, it makes one wonder how much was spent in time (wages) booking the poor woman, and processing her for the “crime” of being late paying a dog license fee. One would guess it was more a lot more than the $10 ticket. Every town, and hamlet being different, some offer a spike in the fee, if you’re one minute late getting that license – locally the licenses are $5.00 for a neutered or spayed dog, and $15 if one’s dog is “intact”. If one misses the filing date, one’s fees go up a bit, but one does not expect to land up in the lockup.

These fees (political speak for “tax”), are used for a variety of things in local and state governments – (the state generally getting a piece of the pie), allegedly to help other animals. However, if all things were local, the fees might be put to better use, a dog park perhaps.

Regardless, someone in Kalamazoo County might want to take a look at the situation and possibly impose a late fee, (TAX) rather than jail time; it would be more cost effective.

CNN has a nifty article on what can land one in jail especially as relates to pets at http://money.cnnn.com/2015/4/9/pf/arrest-warrent-jail/” - worth a quick read, especially if one has a “best friend”.

Being from Massachusetts, grouching about the “fees” (TAXES) levied and raised on a consistent basis by state and local bureaucracies allows one to sympathize with the woman from Michigan (another MA-Like State). Sometimes, one might think that the idiots in charge would use their God given brains and look at each case differently – if one is in the county office to pay the license fee – then they are not avoiding, merely late – it does not warrant arrest.

Of course, neither did the the act of breaking a car window to save a dog in a locked car, warrant an arrest of a vet, who was trying to save a life. (myfoxphilly).

One can be certain there are ridiculous statutes on the books, in every state, or hamlet, but the ability to reason, has been lost when it comes to just about any form of government. In this case, the County should be kinder to their citizens, send out two notices, and then slap them with a late fee. Then a portion of those fees should then be used for free care for county dog owners, or a lovely dog park. Without those good taxpaying dog owners, some in that county might be out of a job. Pay it forward Kalamazoo. In case anyone wishes to comment – there is a handy form available at Kalamazoo County.com just for kicks!

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