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Not Having A Dog License Leads To Jail Time

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - A Jefferson County man was held in jail after refusing to get a license for his dog. Now he and his wife are fighting the fine in court.

4 On Your Side Investigator Rick Sallinger wanted to know how many others don't have licenses and face the possibility of arrest.

Matthew Townsend and his dog Wolfie fought with the law and got bit. In unincorporated Jefferson County all dogs must have a license -- Wolfie did not.

"He's a service animal for my autistic daughter," Townsend explained. "So I didn't feel it was necessary to pay fees; it's a waste of my time and theirs."

One day Wolfie and the family's other dog got out and the Townsends were issued a $50 ticket for not having a license. The county's animal control unit says it doesn't actively go looking for violators, but in Townsend's case deputies arrived to repossess some furniture and happened to discover Matthew missed his day in court, so they proceeded to arrest him.

"Did they handcuff you?" Sallinger asked. "Yes sir, they put me in incarceration ... I was afraid they would shoot my dog. I spent 7 hours down there." Townsend replied.

Seven hours in jail for not having a dog license?

Sallinger asked the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department how many other dog owners face this possibility. CBS4 found 495 summons were issued last year for failure to have a dog license -- 50 of those face arrest for failure to appear.

Jacki Kelley, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office explained, "If they like to roll the dice and ignore the summons issued by animal control, their name is run it will show a warrant and they can be arrested."

CBS4 asked various dog owners and many weren't aware they needed a license, and didn't seem too concerned about it. In fact only 28 percent of dog owners bother to license their dog in all of Jefferson County.

The county say the animal licenses are needed to fund the new $10 million Foothills Animal Shelter. The license is a little star or circle that the dog is supposed to wear and help get it returned if lost.

By CBS4's figures, Jefferson County and other governments are missing out on a lot money for non-compliance on dog licenses. Jefferson County misses more than $2.5 million a year in uncollected license fees. Denver has 19 percent of its dog owners and 1 percent of its cat owners with licenses, missing out on nearly $3.5 million in money it could collect. In Aurora under 9 percent of dogs and only 1 percent of cats are licensed, missing out on $2.5 million in revenue.

By fighting the fee Townsend and his wife April Mearsha are now in a kind of double jeopardy as she got a ticket as well.

"After they arrested Townsend they came back and gave me a second ticket for a $100 this time," Mearsha said.

Despite the arrest and risk of fines and court costs, they are not giving up, hoping the law's bite is not as bad as its bark.

In most communities CBS4 checked, less than 20 percent of the dogs are licensed, meaning in some case they are missing out on millions of dollars a year in revenue.

In Jefferson County it's $30 to license a dog, $15 if neutered. The Townsends' fight continues.

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