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City now offers lifetime dog license

The Hastings City Council has approved the first change of the year to city ordinances. The action, taken Jan. 3 at the council's first regular meeting, added a new lifetime dog license to the books.

City laws, for many years, have required dog owners living within the city to obtain a dog license from the city. The license needed to be renewed every two years, with proof of rabies vaccination provided at the time of each renewal. Dogs are also required to wear a license tag.

Now, dog owners have a new option: a one-time license that lasts the life of the dog. The new license comes with a higher fee, of course; the two-year license costs $12 for a dog that is neutered or spayed, or $20 for those that are intact. The lifetime license costs $30 for spayed/neutered dogs and $45 for non spayed or neutered.

The new license option also requires proof of rabies vaccination at the time of licensing, but does not have any requirement for ongoing proof of vaccination. That point was a cause for concern for Councilmember Lisa Leifeld, who is new to the council this year.

"I would be concerned," she said, "once you've got your licensing, what are we doing to make sure these dogs are being vaccinated?"

City Attorney Dan Fluegel acknowledged that the new ordinance does not include any city process to ensure vaccinations are kept up, but said that laws do stipulate that it is the owner's responsibility to do so. If an incident arose, he said, he expects an investigation would be conducted to determine whether or not the owner abided by that requirement.

Leifeld questioned the city's liability as the license issuer if there was an incident with a dog that was not inoculated. Fluegel said he didn't see it as a great concern; there is potential for liability, he said, but he didn't believe there was great liability.

Tina Folch, another of the city's three new council members, questioned the license fees, which had been approved in December by the previous council. It seemed odd, Folch said, to have a lower fee for animals that are spayed or neutered, and she questioned if the city has done any research to justify the rate difference. She said that, among people she's known, the decision to leave a pet intact is often due to the cost of the procedure, and she questioned adding extra cost for those people who may already be unable to afford it.

City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee said that, historically, the city has offered the lower fee as an incentive to owners to have their pets spayed or neutered. Mayor Paul Hicks agreed, adding that previous councils thought it was good public policy to encourage people to spay or neuter their pets. Councilmember Joe Balsanek noted that his research has showed that Hastings is in line with other cities in the area in offering a lower fee.

"I'm comfortable with the distinction in the fees," he said.

Leifeld also questioned if owners could get replacement tags for lifetime licenses; Mesko Lee said there is a nominal fee for replacement.

The council approved the lifetime dog license on a 6-1 vote, with Leifeld voting against.