Last week, KCMO Animal Control made the startling announcement that on each Wednesday from now until September, Animal Control will be choosing neighborhoods in "targeted areas" and going door-to-door checking on whether people have their pets licensed.
In KCMO, all dogs, cats, and ferrets must be licensed. For each pet that is not licensed, the owner will receive a $75 fine - -so fines could total as much as $300 for someone with four pets in their home (all pets over the maximum of four allowed by the city will be taken from the owner).
KCMO is barely able to provide basic resources for their residents. The schools are suffering. Crime is still high. Our roads don't get plowed when it snows. Public transportation continues to get cut. But somehow we have the the funds to send Animal Control door-to-door to check to see if they're licensed?
The head of animal control, Patrick Egberuare, says the move isn't about generating revenue (which is laughable) but is "pretty much about public safety."
And "public safety"? I don't want to speak for everyone here, but I can only guess that when 40% of the people in the city said they don't feel safe in their own neighborhoods (and 88% in city parks at night and 72% in downtown KCMO) that most of them didn't answer it that way because they felt threatened by their dog not being licensed. Just a guess on my part.
No, if the city were all that concerned about public safety, there are dozens of other things that would take precedence over dog licensing checks. So why are we wasting money on this? And why is it that when the city faced a major budget deficit this year, that Animal Control was one budget that remained intact. It appears to me that they must have a lot of excess resources that could have been cut.
Nope, it seems obvious that this is a revenue grab by the city -- and one that could prove to be really costly.
The Constitutionality of doing door-to-door checks to look for people breaking laws is definitely in question. The 4th Amendment protects us (supposedly) from being searched without reasonable cause that we have done something wrong. We would all instantly see the 4th Amendment being violated if authorities came door-to-door looking for illegal weapons, or to check someone's legal citizenship. And while dog licensing seems innocent enough, it is still a violation of the same Constitutional Law.
The city of Louisville currently has two legal cases (one state, one federal) they are working against for similar activity there. And Two years ago, when a Lucas County, OH (Toledo) dog warden attempted the same type of license checks, and was quickly shut down by the county government because they said it was a waste of time and likely a violation of the 4th Amendment (that particular dog warden resigned under public pressure last fall). All it's going to take is one ACO crossing the wrong person who knows a lawyer and the city will have yet another lawsuit on their hands -- especially when many of the "targeted areas"happen to be in our lower-income areas (Eastwood Hills, Blue Hills, Ivanhoe Northend, etc). Meanwhile, many of our upscale neighborhoods (Waldo, Brookside, Ward Parkway, Armour Hills, etc) have been miraculously left off the targeted list (even though if you visit these areas on a weekend it seems that everyone there owns a dog).
Not only are these searches an unnecessary money-grab from the city, but they continue to put the city in a contentious relationship with its citizens by needlessly harassing people who are not causing any problems and in many cases, heaping substantial fines on them. At a time when KCMO should be doing whatever it can to try to attract people to want to live here, they continue to make policy decisions that make the citizen's relationship with the city tenuous at best. This is one reason many people I know haven't licensed their dogs already is because they feared by doing so they would become the targets of animal control. Seems like their fears are pretty warranted.
If the city council and the mayor have any sense at all about them they will pressure the Animal Control department to quit wasting our tax dollars on these silly searches. It's a waste of time and money -- and is leaving the city open to another potential lawsuit. There are hundreds of other things we could spend money on besides this.
For those of you who's neighborhood is going to be targeted, here's some good information from Kansas City Dog Advocates on your rights as a citizen when Animal Control comes knocking.