Ocean City Council Reconsidering Dog License Direction

OCEAN CITY — It appears the requirement for an Ocean City dog license might not go away after all as resort officials this week tabled a vote on an ordinance that would have eliminated them.

Back in May, the Mayor and Council reviewed proposed changes to the town’s ordinance regarding dogs and licenses. The proposed amendments eliminated some arcane language in the ordinance regarding certain fees, but most importantly, streamlined the rather confusing process for obtaining a dog license and a dog park permit in Ocean City.

Currently, Ocean City requires a license for all pet dogs residing in the city. The license could only be obtained at City Hall, but the recreation and parks department requested to be able to issue dog permits from Northside Park as well. The license, and more importantly, proof of rabies vaccinations, are required to allow dogs to enter the renovated city dog park at 94th Street.

Before acting on the request, however, some on the council questioned why the town even issued its own dog license considering Worcester County also requires one. Worcester already requires a dog license for pet dogs residing in the county. While the license can be issued by a county department, they are typically issued by a pet owner’s vet at the time of vaccinations.

In June, before acting on the proposed changes, the council directed City Solicitor Heather Stansbury to research the genesis of the existing dog license ordinance in Ocean City. Stansbury determined the town’s municipal dog license requirement has been on the books since 1974 with a requirement all pet dogs in the resort were registered and vaccinated for rabies.

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In the 1990s, Worcester began requiring licenses for all dogs in the county, which, of course, includes Ocean City. Satisfied with the research and the notion the town’s dog license was duplicating the county service, the council voted last month to abolish the Ocean City dog license and bring the proposed changes back in the form of amendments to the existing ordinance.

On Monday, the proposed ordinance changes came back to the Mayor and Council for approval on first reading before Councilman Mark Paddack asked to pump the brakes on the issue for further discussion.

“I’d like to withdraw this back to a work session,” he said. “I learned from the county today this ordinance is not going to meet the needs of our residents.”

Paddack said the proposed ordinance amendments had drifted beyond the original intent and eliminating the Ocean City dog license altogether might not be the best option.

“Our recreation and parks director has said the original intent of this is proof of inoculation,” he said. “I ask that we remand this to a work session. We can bring in recreation and parks, county animal control and our own animal control people.”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca agreed the ordinance changes might need more discussion.

“My feeling is this doesn’t have a sense of urgency,” he said. “I think we need to get this right the first time I think we need to hear from the county’s expert.”

Stansbury reminded the council the entire issue was borne out of a banal request from Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito.

“This came to you in the form of a simple request,” she said. “Currently, you need an Ocean City dog license and you can only get that from City Hall. She was trying to address a very, very narrow issue. Could her department issue dog licenses up at recreation and parks and save residents the drive down to City Hall?”

Stansbury said the issue became more complicated when the question was raised if the town’s dog license was just a duplication of the county’s service.

“At some point, a councilmember asked why does the town have dog licenses at all,” she said. “At that time, there was not a great answer for that. We reported back to you there really wasn’t a great reason other than you’ve always had them. Currently, your animal control officers use them most often to return lost dogs, but recently, because more and more dogs are becoming microchipped, that hasn’t been a big issue.”

It was determined the county issues the dog licenses at its facilities in Snow Hill, but most often the licenses are issued to pet owners when they take their dogs to the vet to get the requisite vaccinations. Stansbury said there aren’t any veterinarian offices within corporate limits.

“The county reminded us there aren’t any veterinarians currently in the town of Ocean City,” she said. “Any person taking an animal to a vet is going outside corporate limits. The vets are issuing dog licenses because it goes hand in hand with the rabies vaccination.”

Stansbury said the council had the option to table the ordinance before them on Monday and discuss the issue further with the county’s animal control officers with input from the town’s animal control officers. Or, the council could decide to keep the Ocean City dog license and address the original issue of distributing them at Northside Park in addition to City Hall.

“From a legal standpoint, we take no position here,” she said. “We’re just trying to address the concerns of the council. You can eliminate the Ocean City dog license, you can refer this back to recreation and parks, or you can revert back to what was requested in the first place.”

Paddack said he raised the initial question about simply eliminating the Ocean City dog license, but has since done more research on his own.

“I asked the question why do we have it and why is it duplicated,” he said. “What I’ve learned from a vet I spoke to is state law mandates all domesticated animals, mostly dogs, to receive the vaccine. The recreation and parks department is not so concerned about the dog licenses. Their concern is that any dogs that utilize city property such as the dog park be vaccinated to protect the town of Ocean City.”

Paddack said the county provides the dog licenses to the town in the interest of convenience.

“Worcester County supplies the licenses and the paperwork to the town of Ocean City so our residents don’t have to make the drive down to Snow Hill to get them,” he said.

Stansbury also said most dog licenses are being issued through vet offices.

“The vets are also distributing the dog licenses, so residents don’t have to go to Snow Hill,” she said. “It’s really up to the council to decide what they want to do with keeping the licenses or not.”

After considerable debate, the council voted to remand the entire issue back to a future work session with participation from all parties involved.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.