Across North America, pet license compliance perpetually hovers in the 10% range. We’ve seen this time and time again through the hundreds of municipal consultations we’ve led. There are many reasons offered as to why this often polarizing municipal requirement is so consistently low, including – but not limited to – being cost-prohibitive. But contrary to popular belief, cost is not the biggest detractor when it comes to persistently low compliance.

In a recent poll of our licensed pet owners, only 6% indicated that cost of a license ever kept them from purchasing their first one. This is not at all surprising. It’s no secret that pets are a money pit, costing the average pet owner thousands of dollars each year in food and veterinary visits alone. In a $98 billion/year industry, a license is really a drop in the (dog water) bucket.

Then What Is The Problem?

The biggest contributor to low compliance is an honest lack of awareness. Simply put, the majority of residents in a given city or town do not know that they are legally required to license their pet(s), despite there being a near 100% occurrence of a by-law or ordinance in North American municipalities requiring it. “I didn’t know I had to license?” “Since when? Nobody told me!” We hear it every day.

There will always be the ultra-responsible pet owners (the early adopters we’ll call them) in every city that know about the by-law, and they are always the first to joyfully fulfill the licensing requirement. They do this in large part as insurance against themselves. They want to ensure that if and when that horrible, heart-wrenching, stomach-dropping moment of realizing their pet has gone missing occurs, they are prepared. They have the Peace of Mind (Boston, anyone?) that the tag they got from licensing will allow their fellow citizen who finds the pet – whether a by-law officer, a concerned citizen, a friendly neighbour, Johnny (Dog)Walker, or otherwise – to contact them and reunite them with their furry friend ASAP. But as I mentioned, that is a small and relatively static minority.

What Can Be Done?

Cities need to do much more on the awareness side to educate and inform citizens about their respective municipal by-law if they have any hope of truly increasing compliance. Low compliance is an ongoing problem that tends to be pushed to the back burner in favour of lower-hanging fruit like parking tickets. And for a municipality that may, generously, dedicate one day a year to strategic planning around responsible pet ownership, long-term success and improvement is hard to fathom. Outsourcing the education and awareness piece is one solution, but more on that at a later time.

Ready For Change

Although low (or no) awareness is likely the biggest contributor to your city’s compliance problem, it is certainly not the only factor. It is joined by three other inextricably intertwined causes that combine to create the perfect storm and ensure compliance and revenue remain low. Addressing any one of these four causes head on, like the one we covered today, is a great way to begin growing your city’s percentage. But to truly realize a positive, systemic and measurable change, all four of these causes need to be addressed simultaneously and comprehensively. Join me next week as discuss the second cause: Lack of Convenience.

Until then, happy licensing!