All dogs in Flathead County require registration, including those in the country and unincorporated towns. Between intake fees of $30 and $25 per day for kenneling, a lost dog taken to Flathead County Animal Shelter would cost $130 after four days. The fees and the distress of losing a pet can be avoided with registration through the county and includes having the lost animal returned to its owner's home.
Registration costs $15 for a spayed or neutered dog and $30 if it is not.
In addition to the intake and kenneling fees, the dog owner would be subject to fines of up to $500, but are typically closer to $100, according to Flathead County Animal Shelter Director Cliff Bennett
“I live in Lakeside and I read West Shore News; and have been director here for two years, and I've been made aware that a lot of people just don't know there is this ordinance,” Bennett said. “We want people to know it's as simple as going online, pushing a few buttons, entering a credit card number and we'll mail them the license.”
Licenses can also be purchased at the animal shelter; and the only requirement is a current rabies vaccination, which is only available through a veterinarian.
These requirements for dog owners in Flathead County, and the fines for violating them, have been in effect for twenty years but Bennett estimates only 2,000 licenses are sold for the approximately 10,000 dogs in Flathead County.
Any animal brought to the animal shelter becomes property of the county and eligible for adoption after three days of unclaimed kenneling. At this point the animal is spayed or neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped so it can be identified even without a collar.
Once an animal has been kenneled, all fees must be paid before the owner can reclaim it and there is no payment plan option. According to Bennett, previous owners have tried to reclaim their pet after it has been adopted and the new owner rarely surrenders it back.
“It doesn't make us feel very good when we do that because everyone that works here has pets,” Bennett said. “We would rather not do that, would rather that people license their animals and follow the letter of the ordinance because we have a small staff and limited space, we're almost always full.”
As of Jan. 26 there were 50 dogs and 55 cats available for adoption at Flathead County Animal Shelter and some that hadn't hit the three-day mark yet.
Bennett also wants Flathead dog owners to be aware that there are also leash laws, barking ordinances, and kennel licensing requirements throughout the entire county. Bennett recalled an instance last year when officers found a dog breeder with 25 dogs at various stages of poor health, one with a broken leg that had to be amputated, one with a missing eye, and all poorly socialized for human interaction due to spending too much time in kennels.
More recently, Flathead County Animal Shelter brought in 10 dogs from one household that were underfed and uncared for last week.
Neither party involved in those instances held a kenneling license with the county.
“People can't keep that many dogs and keep them all healthy,” Bennett said. “When you find people like that they aren't too smart or responsible.”
Volunteers and donations are always accepted, whether it's sheets, blankets, or time. Food donations are encouraged to be Hill Science Diet dog or cat food.
“The biggest thing people can do is join or support Flathead Shelter Friends,” Bennett said. FSF hold fundraisers and volunteer for the shelter throughout the year, more information about FSF and how to get involved can be found at www.flatheadshelterfriends.com.
Flathead Animal Shelter is open Tuesday through Friday noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is closed on Sundays and Mondays. For more information call 752-1310 or visit their website, http://flathead.mt.gov/animal/.