BRUNSWICK — Slammed doors. Profanities. Spit.
These are things Animal Control Officer Heidi Nelson regularly encounters while enforcing laws and complaints about Brunswick’s estimated 2,200 licensed dogs.
And at no other time of year do the doors slam, the insults drop and the spit fly more often than now. That’s because it’s time for Nelson to carry out the town’s dog warrant, a list of owners who either failed to license their dogs or renew them.
The owners are subject to hefty fines – a minimum of $15 per dog, and more than double the cost to license a dog on time.
Failure to register a dog can lead to a court summons and fines of up to $200.
Nelson said she’s familiar with many delinquent owners on the warrant.
“It’s usually the same people,” Nelson said. “I could write a book about the excuses they give (for not paying on time). A lot of them just don’t care. They think it’s funny to have me chase them around.”
But some residents aren’t laughing.
The Town Council authorized the dog warrant during its Feb. 2 meeting. Since then the town clerk’s office has been besieged by unhappy dog
owners. Many say they didn’t know the licenses had to be renewed by
There were 556 names on the warrant, representing nearly a quarter of the town’s registered dogs. While some on the warrant have either moved or had dogs die, most have previously held a Brunswick license.
In Bath there were approximately 200 on the city’s warrant, or about 24 percent of the 850 licensed dogs.
Since Feb. 2, 407 Brunswick residents have been cleared from the warrant. According to estimates from the clerk’s office, more than 76 percent of those owners have renewed licenses, which means most were just late.
Town Clerk Fran Smith isn’t sure.
According to Smith, Brunswick sends reminders to current license holders the week after Thanksgiving. So does Bath. Neither municipality is required to do so under state law.
In fact, it’s the state that sets most of the licensing regulations and fines. State law requires that dogs older than six months be licensed within 10 days of entering the state. While towns have some latitude in enforcing the requirement, the fees are set: $6 for neutered or spayed dogs, $11 for unaltered dogs.
Licenses can be renewed each year between Oct. 15 and Dec. 31. However, there’s also a grace period that extends the deadline to Jan. 31.
The state also sets the $15 late fee, which the towns ultimately retain. Brunswick, for example, collected $2,500 in late fees last year.
After the final deadline, communities’ legislative bodies can authorize a dog warrant, which can ultimately lead to a court summons for owners who refuse to pay.
That’s where Nelson comes in. Brunswick’s animal control officer says she usually waits until two weeks after the warrant is signed before she begins calling owners. After that, Nelson will visit each home – generally an unpleasant experience.
“I’ve been sworn at, spit at and called names,” Nelson said. “And of course, they lie to me. I’ve had one person tell me they don’t have the dog anymore and suddenly their 6-year-old daughter appears saying, ‘Yes, we do!’ “
However, given that nearly a quarter of the owners on the dog warrant have licensed their dogs before, many complain they’re being punished for doing the right thing. According to Smith and Bath City Clerk Mary White, some owners argue that they’re being penalized for being forgetful while other owners get away with negligence by never registering their dogs in the first place.
A law passed by the Legislature two years ago was supposed to remedy that problem. It required all veterinary clinics to send notice of rabies vaccinations to the state Department of Agriculture. The state then sends notices of the vaccinations to corresponding municipalities.
According to White, that means unlicensed dog owners are also on the warrant.
Nelson said unlicensed dog owners are pursued just as rigorously as those who have simply forgotten to renew – probably harder.
“I try to work with people,” said Nelson, who added that she’s never had to issue a licensing summons.
“I give them the chance to do the right thing,” she added. “But some people are really nasty when it comes to getting caught.”