HD5 - Companion Animal Licensing Procedures Study Group Report [HJR 160, 2016]

Executive Summary:
In accordance with House Joint Resolution 160 (HJR 160) enacted by the 2016 General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), in cooperation with a panel of stakeholders (herein referred to as the “study group”) and with technical assistance from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), reviewed Virginia's companion animal licensing procedures and assessed the feasibility of establishing a statewide system for recording rabies vaccinations and licensing. A key proponent of HJR 160 was the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia (TAV). The TAV representative on the study group cited poor animal license compliance rates and return on investment in regard to dog licensing as concerns for providing an impetus for this study. The goals of this study included efficient traceability of animals, finding a more efficient system of licensing whereby the rabies vaccination certificate might serve as a license, exploring the possibility of veterinarians issuing licenses at the point of vaccination and encouraging localities to consider an automated data entry system for rabies vaccination.

Surveys were distributed by study group members to key partners in licensing, namely, local treasurers, animal control officers, veterinarians and members of the general public, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the dog licensing process, impact and options. At the TAV’s request, the surveys focused on dog licensing since all localities are required to license dogs and comparatively few localities license cats. In addition to querying key partners about the licensing process, these partners were also asked for their perspectives on establishing a statewide database for recording licensing and rabies vaccination information. The concept of microchip implants and how a better understanding of this technology may complement the study group’s efforts in regard to the licensing process and associated data management was explored via a panel of microchip technology representatives.

Based on the information gathered as part of the study process, the study group developed a series of options in regard to the licensing process at the local government level for the TAV’s consideration and further deliberation with local partners. All options put forward pertain to individual dog licenses as opposed to kennel licenses or tags associated with dangerous dogs. The options presented take the perspectives of all key partners in licensing into consideration with a particular focus on process efficiency and key partner administrative burden. Study group members expressed various opinions about the options. Two options received unanimous support by the study group and are recommended, namely (i) local treasurers should consider multiyear licensing and/or lifetime licensing and (ii) local treasurers should consider using an automated system for rabies certificate and dog licensing information. A change to Code of Virginia section §3.2-6528 would be necessary in order to allow localities the option of offering lifetime licensing of dogs. It is currently within a local government’s purview to allow multiyear licensing and to choose the system used to maintain rabies certificate and dog licensing information. None of the seven options is anticipated to have a state general fund fiscal impact.

The study group also considered the feasibility of establishing a statewide system for recording rabies vaccinations and licensing that may include a statewide database of licensed companion animals that can be remotely accessed by animal control officers in the field. The technological feasibility of this type of system was explored via presentations from Virginia state agency representatives as well as representatives from state and local governments in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maine. In addition to these presentations, information was gathered from surveys of key partners in licensing.

All key partners who responded to the surveys indicated support for the concept of a statewide database designed to capture rabies certificate and dog licensing data and that this system is technologically feasible. However, fiscal and information access considerations associated with a system like this require further discussion. In light of this, the study group encourages the TAV to discuss this system further with its members, local partners and state agencies.