Maine municipalities are reminding dog owners that it is time, actually past time, to get their dogs licensed. Meanwhile, Timmy, a resident of the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk, who graciously posed for a photo, is looking for a forever home, where he will be loved, and licensed. Tammy Wells Photo

If you haven’t licensed Spot or Fido, Rufus or Sweetie Pie, municipal and state officials say it is time you did. Maine’s dog licensing laws say all licenses expire Dec. 31, and so it is past time to make sure your canine family member is a legal pup.

For a spayed or neutered dog, the fee is $6; $11 if the dog is intact and is licensed on time. The late fee is $25 fee. Scofflaws who don’t license their animal at all can be issued a summons and fined. Fines can be up to $100.

Licenses are dispensed by municipal clerks in your town or city. A copy of a current rabies vaccination is required in order to license the dog.

So, are there scofflaws? And what is the reasoning behind dog licensing, anyway?

In Kennebunk, Town Clerk Merton Brown estimated there were about 1,800 dogs in the community in 2018; by Feb. 1, 2019, the end of the grace period, about 75 percent of them were licensed, he estimated.

But you can’t license animals you don’t know exist, and so there could well be dogs in most York County municipalities that bark under the radar, so to speak.


“We don’t know who has dogs unless we do a dog census,” said Brown. “Forty years ago, when you filled out your letter that came with town report — where you let the town know if you added a porch, etc., one question was ‘do you have a dog?’”

Those letters are a thing of the past, Brown said. But a few years ago, the state began requiring veterinarians to forward copies of rabies certificates to municipalities and when Kennebunk receives a copy for a canine that isn’t licensed, it will send a letter to the owner, reminding them to license their dog.

Garth Russell, Biddeford’s Animal Control Officer for 14 years, said in 2018, there were about 600 unlicensed dogs in the city that had been previously licensed, but by the end of the Jan. 30, 30-day grace period, he’d chased most of the owners down. In all, about 2,300 dogs are licensed in Biddeford.

“Most people have just forgotten,” said Russell, despite the notices that are mailed out by the City Clerk’s Office to remind people about the license expiration. Russell too, sends out reminders.

Maine Director of Animal Welfare Liam Hughes said  there are about 250,000 dogs in Maine and estimated about 50 percent of them are licensed. The Animal Welfare Program is a division of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Hughes said dogs were first licensed in Maine in the 1860s. A Maine dog license issued in 1877 gave permission for dogs to run at large, he said.


The attitude towards dogs was different,” in the 1800s, Hughes explained. There was more farmland and so more farm dogs. He said even 50 to 60 years ago, there were sometimes packs of stray dogs that would run together, and chase and kill chickens or other small farm critters. With the license, in theory, those animals could be traced back to their owners, he said.

“Now people have smaller properties, down to one or two acres with back yards and fences and at-large laws,” he pointed out.

In the 1960s, Hughes said, licensing laws became more about halting the spread of rabies.

He noted cats are required to be vaccinated for rabies at six months but aren’t licensed.

“Cats are a different type of animal,” he said, and tend to have a smaller range than do canines.

According to an article by Diane Bandy on the history of dog licensing in Maine that Hughes said had appeared in a back issue of Downeast Dog News, an 1893 law charged owners licensing a spayed or neutered dog $1.15 and $3.15 for an intact canine. The funds collected were used to reimburse owners for sheep killed by stray dogs, or to destroy the dogs.


These days, the licensing fees are broken down a bit differently. Of the $6 fee for spayed or neutered canines, $1 goes to the municipal clerk’s office, $2 to the municipal animal control office, and $3 to the state animal welfare fund. Of the $11 fee, $1 goes to the city clerk’s office, and $10 to the animal welfare fund. State law allows the municipality to keep the $25 late fee, if charged, for their own animal welfare account.

Some dog owners believe that because their dog isn’t an outside animal, a license is not required, Brown said, but that isn’t the case. A license is required for all dogs; fees are exempted for law enforcement dogs, trained search and rescue dogs and service dogs owned by a person with a physical or mental disability, according to Maine statutes.

Russell, in Biddeford, said he had a woman tell him she didn’t believe is licensing dogs.

“But she did it,” he said, after he explained how the fee is dispensed.


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