An ordinance proposing countywide licenses for pets will be brought to the Volusia County Council for review in December, and the county has asked elected officials to voice their support for the program, which aims to reduce the number of pets admitted into shelters.
Volusia County Animal Services Director Adam Leath presented the proposal during the Round Table of Volusia County Elected Officials meeting on Monday, Nov. 8. Currently, all 16 cities — in addition to the county which services unincorporated areas — have their own licensing program, with costs for residents ranging from free to $10 for sterilized pets, and upwards of $25 for unsterilized pets. A pet license, which is a tag bought after a pet receives its rabies vaccination, in the city of Ormond Beach costs $5 for both sterilized and unsterilized pets.
Without a centralized system, there is no comprehensive or universal way to track down pet owners if their pets become lost, an issue that results in too many pets entering shelters, an increased cost to cities and owners permanently losing their pets, said Leath.
According to the county, 5,645 animals were sheltered in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, and 3,623 animals were sheltered in fiscal year 2019-2020 (though it is to be noted the county did not have data from the city of New Smyrna Beach for 2019-2020; that city reported 433 pets admitted into shelters in 2018-2019). The county estimates sheltering pets in Volusia County costs $530,630.
“It’s not just one of your cities," Leath said. "It’s not just the unincorporated. It’s all of us, but unfortunately, it’s segmented and so it’s really challenging for us to address this problem if we’re not trying to address it all at the same time and working collaboratively.”
Out of the estimated pet population of 223,145 in Volusia, the county estimates only 2.51% are actually licensed.
Volusia County's return-to-owner rate was 20% in fiscal year 2019-2020, with only 191 pets returned. While Leith said this may sound very low, the county is doing better than the national average where less than 1% of cats and less than 12% of dogs are ever reclaimed by their owners.
“We do believe strongly that an identified pet is a pet that doesn’t have to be sheltered and can go back to its original owner," Leith said.
This isn't the first time countywide pet licensing has been discussed. In 2005, according to the county's proposal, the topic was brought before a public hearing and 82% of Volusia's cities elected to participate; however, the ordinance failed because a 90% participation rate was needed to ensure enough revenue was generated to justify the consolidation, the County Council voted it down.
The proposal states that other problems were also identified within the 2005 ordinance: 1) administrative work was to be handled by a third-party, 2) the program was not an initiative by the county's Animal Control division but rather was "championed" by Concerned Citizens for Animal Welfare and 3) the county was delegated by cities to issue tags and rebates for spaying and neutering.
Under this new proposal, one-year license fees would start at $4 for a sterilized and microchipped pet to $16 for an unsterilized pet. Three-year licenses would also be available at a higher cost.
The town of Ponce Inlet, as well as the cities of Holly Hill, DeLand, Edgewater, and Orange City have indicated they are onboard with the program.
Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg, chair of the Round Table, said it is imperative the 16 cities come together on this issue.
“None of us have enough code enforcement and animal control to keep up with the growing population," Herzberg said. "We have an influx of housing development in every city that’s represented up here today. How are we going to handle that influx of people with their animals? You have to have some sort of system.”
The next meeting of the Round Table is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2022.