“Aggressive license enforcement”: Let’s do the numbers.

The centerpiece of a proposed Joint Powers Authority to run Stockton Animal Services is the supposed revenue-generating potential of “aggressive license enforcement:” that is, paying a staff of canvassers to go door-to-door in Stockton (which broke its own homicide record this October) and San Joaquin County looking for unlicensed pets and enforcing the license law. Let’s pretend Stockton Animal Services follows the law and that it is not the height of hypocrisy and completely unlike a real democracy to expect citizens to follow the law while the government ignores its own violations. Let’s pretend that enforcement doesn’t create an adversarial relationship between the government and its citizens. Let’s pretend it’s safe to send low-paid canvassers looking for violations of the pet license ordinance and making people comply. Let’s pretend this scheme wouldn’t have to be shut down, removing all possibility of generating revenue, as soon as the first canvasser was threatened or actually shot.

Let’s pretend all that and just look at the numbers, where they came from and what they mean. At the City Council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, Stockton city staffer Christian Clegg, with help from City Manager Bob Deis and audience support from no-bid contract holders and long-time shelter partners Tammie Murrell and Sue Marks Gibbs, doing consulting business as Animal Protection League, estimated that aggressive license enforcement would bring in $1 million per year for Animal Services. That’s the same number APL used in December 2011 presentations to the city and county.
This number comes from the original JPA study that included the cities of Lodi, Lathrop, Manteca, and Tracy. It was computed by taking the population of those cities plus Stockton and San Joaquin County and running the population number through the AVMA’s pet-ownership on-line calculator. The on-line calculator is provided as a service by the AVMA to veterinarians so that they can get a back-of-the-envelope idea of the market for veterinary services in different places. The AVMA is quick to point out how high the error might be in the results, since national estimates are used in the formulas, and since there simply is no hard census data on pet ownership in the United States. For example, across the nation there are 34% renters (versus homeowners), while in Stockton there are 48% renters, which likely changes the pet ownership numbers considerably.

The pet calculator produced an estimate of 171,420 dogs and 252,800 cats. Assuming four full-time house-to-house collectors, the original JPA study calculated that in the first year a 25% compliance rate could be achieved, and that 90% of dogs would be altered and 10% would be unaltered. The suggested licensing fee for altered dogs was $13 and for unaltered dogs $150. Thus the final computation was:

(171,420 dogs x .25 compliance x .90 altered x $13 per altered dog) = $510,404

(171,420 dogs x .25 compliance x .10 unaltered x $150 per unaltered dog) = $642,825

Since the cities of Lodi, Lathrop, Manteca, and Tracy all declined to participate in the JPA, the above figures would be reduced, since the households of those cities would not be a source of revenue. Thus, the projected revenue at a 25% compliance rate would not be in the $1M range.

But perhaps the most glaring problem with the above calculation is that over half of the expected revenue (56%) comes from the owners of unaltered dogs. Thus, the animal shelter is relying on the maintenance of an unaltered dog population in order to keep revenue steady. If the unaltered dog population were reduced to zero, for example, expected revenue to the shelter would drop by 51%. That’s not likely, but the incentive is not to encourage spay and neuter but to sell licenses at the higher rate to be paid by owners of unlicensed pets.

Clearly, the goal of revenue from an unaltered dog population is at odds with the goal of reducing that same population in order to decrease intake to the animal shelter. Implementing this counter-incentive would be like wiring together the gas pedal and brake pedal of an automobile. It would make no sense.

Doesn’t it make more sense to commit to lifesaving and implement the No Kill Equation, and to pursue adoptions, private donations, and grants based on a model set of programs that has produced “live release” rates of over 90% in more than 50 communities, with more adopting this successful model every month and every year? Individuals, organizations and foundations want to support proven models, want to support success, and want to support lifesaving. A Mayor and City Council worth re-electing would not even consider a risky and unsound plan such as APL’s. A Mayor and City Council worth re-electing would immediately order Stockton Animal Services to comply with all applicable laws and for the future would choose the proven lifesaving, cost-effective model, the No Kill Equation.

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