Monday, May 26, 2008
Help Me Howard: Dog Citations
If you own a pet, you know you have to get them rabies shots, but if you don't, did you know you could be fined through the mail without ever receiving a warning? One woman is ticked off with the county and says dog owners are being cited unfairly. Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser takes a bite out of this one.
WSVN -- Pilar loves dogs and obviously one kind of dog in particular.
Pilar Benitez: "I love Basset Hounds because they are very calm dogs, and they are very loving. They are just very loving dogs, and they are relaxed."
The dogs are relaxed, but Pilar is not because of them.
Pilar Benitez: "My problem is I received two citations dated May 9th."
Two citations from Miami-Dade County Animal Services for not licensing and vaccinating the dogs. Two very expensive citations.
Pilar Benitez: "I could pay $440, which for me is a great deal of money, or I could take it to court, in which case, if I was found guilty, I would have to pay the citations and the court costs."
Now, in the past, Pilar wouldn't have been blindsided with a fine because Miami-Dade County used to send out a renewal notice.
Pilar Benitez: "Every year they would send reminders in, and you would go ahead and take your dog in. However, this year, I never received a reminder, and I forgot."
She didn't get a reminder because the county stopped sending them out. You get a notice to renew your car tag, to pay your property taxes, but in 2008, Miami-Dade County decided to quit sending out notices to get animals shots.
Pilar Benitez: "It really makes me feel bad because people that I trust, like Animal Services, is sticking it to us."
The county says they are saving $80,000 a year by not sending out the notices. What they don't say is they are making a lot of money when people don't remember to get their animals rabies shots.
Pilar Benitez: "The only logical explanation that I have is that they need the money, and they are not only hitting me, they are hitting many people here who are responsible dog owners."
Pilar is right, we went down to Animal Services, where people were in line after getting these hefty fines.
Andrea Branch: "They don't give you any warning, but they'll send you a ticket. It seems unconstitutional that they can not give you any warning, but then fine you and then charge it to your house."
It seems to be a cash cow for Miami-Dade County, they save money on notices, then, if you don't pay the fine on time, the county can put a lien on your house and then foreclose on it.
Andrea Branch: "They are looking for fund raisers and any way they can get us to pay without having to explain themselves, all the better."
But does the county legally have to offer a reminder warning or can they just sit back, wait and fine pet owners, Mr. Finkelstein?
Howard Finkelstein: "In the past, the Miami-Dade County was required to give a warning, but the county commission voted to change the law and no longer must give that notice, but to start issuing large fines immediately after changing the law, especially because everyone had become used to the renewal, is not fair."
Miami-Dade County Commissioners voted to change the law upon the recommendation of County Manager George Burgess. In this January memo, he touted "the ability to cite instead of warn." Noting a "positive fiscal impact." When we asked the county manager's office for an on camera interview, his staff said he was busy, and he would not be commenting on this but trying to ask questions may have done the trick.
A few days later, Animal Services told us the rabies reminder notices would start again in June. Pilar's $440 fine was wiped out. She fought and won a battle. Howard says she should not have had to fight.
Howard Finkelstein: "Government agencies are going through tough times and trying to raise revenue. Makes sense, but elected officials and bureaucrats must remember hard working taxpayers are also going through tough times, and raising the money in an unfair way from them is just not right."
Pilar is happy her fines are wiped out but wonders why the county chose to come after the people who register their pets and ignore the people who don't.
Pilar Benitez: "It really makes me feel that we are penalized for being responsible because there are many dogs that roam the street, and they are not licensed, they don't have to be vaccinated and their owners don't have to put up with this aggravation."
Patrick Fraser: "If you got cited, don't automatically pay, fight it, and Broward County doesn't send out renewal notices either, but we don't hear many complaints from there because the county relies on private vets to notify their customers, and if you forget to get the shot, they don't automatically fine you like Dade was doing."
Ready to take a shot at your problem? Here is a reminder to call us. We're fine if you don't, but if you do we'll rabidly work to help you out.
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