Officials say that compares favorably with the state's other metropolitan counties, but still means some 52,000 dogs are less likely to be returned home if lost -- and more likely to be killed if impounded. Dog advocates hope two initiatives being rolled out this fall by the Lucas County Auditor's Office could change that.
When license renewal notices go out this November, they'll include information on a discount card that will come with all licenses, and an option for owners to add their contact information to a public database that will make it easier for residents to help each other find lost dogs.
If it works, the efforts are expected to reduce the number of dogs that are killed at the pound.
"Those that are stray dogs, unlicensed, there's a higher percentage of those that are going to be euthanized," Auditor Anita Lopez said. "When we have a licensed dog, the chances are they're going to be returned."
Though enforcement of dog licensing is tasked to the county dog warden, selling the licenses is the duty of Ms. Lopez.
Working with members of the now-defunct Dog Warden Advisory Committee, the auditor is putting together the "Lucas County Loves Dogs" card program, which will give owners a wallet-size card good for discounts and special offers at county businesses.
"It's a real incentive, and it rewards people who have done the right thing. Hopefully it's going to lead to thousands more unlicensed dogs becoming licensed," said Steve Serchuk, who was the chairman of the dog warden advisory committee.
The rewards program is modeled after one in Calgary, Ontario, which boasts a compliance rate around 90 percent. There, the program was more about taking an already value-based system to the next level than it was about enticing owners to finally get in compliance. Still, Bill Bruce, director of animal and bylaw services for Calgary, said it could still have that effect here in Lucas County.
More important in getting compliance, Mr. Bruce said, is convincing residents there is a valuable service to be had by getting animals licensed. Calgary made a shift 11 years ago to push the reward instead of the enforcement.
"That was probably one of the best things we did, refocus what our job is," Mr. Bruce said. "Our job is to serve, not to enforce. Yes, sometimes we have to write tickets, but our job is to serve."
Ms. Lopez said 25 businesses have expressed interest in signing up for the program. Many offer pet-based goods or services, though it will be open to anyone. The program will be linked to a future Web site, www.lucascountylovesdogs.com, that will list all participating vendors.
The direct cost to the county will be $2,841.75 to print 50,000 reward cards. Ms. Lopez said that money will come from the warden's dog and kennel fund. Her office is entitled to a certain percentage every year to cover the administrative cost of licensing.
A member of the Dog Warden Advisory Committee has donated $1,400 to cover costs of the Web site, which will also be run by a volunteer administrator.
Mr. Serchuk believes the potential annual savings could be five to 10 times the $25 spent on the dog tag.
How many more dogs might be licensed is tough to say.
Lucas County Dog Warden Julie Lyle said she's heard the auditor was working on the program, but doesn't know the details. "I think there are other communities that have done this, [but] I don't know the results of that," Ms. Lyle said. "I haven't been privy to this information, so I can't talk to much about it."
Ms. Lyle, too, has been focusing on the benefits of having a dog license vs. the penalties of not having one. She said the advertising campaign for last year's renewals was focused on the warden's commitment to make every attempt possible to return lost, licensed dogs, be it by deputies checking with neighbors or the office making phone calls and sending letters.
"There are a lot of benefits that people don't necessarily think about, they just think of it as a tax," Ms. Lyle said. "This is what enables us to keep the county safe from dog problems."
In fact, license fees are the primary funding source for her office. So, potentially there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in license fees not being collected across the county -- money that could be used to take care of dogs under Ms. Lyle's control, help facilitate adoptions, or pay for improvements at the pound.
The database of dog owner information will be available on an auditor-administrated Web site. It will be optional, but Ms. Lopez believes it is an option residents will embrace.
"The sooner we return the dogs, the less cost to the dog warden, and it decreases the chance of that dog being euthanized because they were not returned," she said.
To help publicize that, the Lucas County Loves Dogs cards will include information about the database. It also will have phone numbers for the dog warden, Toledo Humane Society, and spay and neuter information.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.