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You Need a License to Be a Dog?

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

Cities and States Require Dog License For All Dogs

If you are a first-time pet parent, you may not be familiar with dog licensing laws. Virtually all 50 states require you to license your dog, although specifics may vary by state, and in some instances, by city or county statutes.

Dog licenses are typically metal disks (or sometimes other shapes) that have been issued by the state and which carry a unique identification number, which can also help bring your pet back home, should he/she decide to go AWOL. A license can only be obtained through your veterinarian or other authorized state agency. The cute little bones, valentines, and daisies engraved with your pet’s name and your contact information do not count as an official license, although they can be helpful as a quick information source if someone finds a pet at large.

The most basic function of your pet’s license is to provide verification of rabies vaccination. If your pet doesn’t have an up-to-date license (generally renewable each year), you may be fined, and if your pet wanders and is picked up by Animal Control, he/she may face delays in returning home. Also, should an unlicensed pet bite someone, the pet will face a period of quarantine (and perhaps worse if deemed a “dangerous” animal), and the owner has just entered a legal nightmare. Finally, if you plan to take your pup to doggy day care, they'll certainly ask for all updated vaccination and license records.

Age requirements for initial vaccination range from 3 to 6 months, based on state of residence. Also, if you and your pet are planning a move, please be aware that a new license may be required. Some states allow exemption from vaccination for medical reasons, but probably more do not. Licensing costs will also vary. Some states offer discounts if pets have been spayed or neutered or if their people are seniors. The resource list at the end of this post cites information detailing licensing laws by state.

There may be other state-specific requirements as well. Based on the sources reviewed as this post was being prepared, areas of devastating COVID-19 activity, such as New York City, allowed vaccination delays for the duration of the emergency. Hawaii’s information suggested that vaccination was not required for resident pets, since rabies is not indigenous to Hawaii. However, entering pets will likely be quarantined.

If this is your first time licensing a pet, the procedure is simple for everyone except the pup, who may feel differently, since it does involve getting the injection. When you check out, you will receive a certificate with your veterinarian’s credentials and signature, noting the date of vaccination, and the tag. The tag will likely come with a slide-on ring for attachment to a collar. It’s usually pretty thin and not that difficult for a determined pet to straighten out, losing the tag in the process. You may want to ask if they can give you an S hook, which is a little harder to attach (requires a pair of pliers to squeeze the ends shut), but also a lot harder to destroy.

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