KALISPELL, Mont. - Flathead County Commissioners are proposing changes to current dog licensing rules that have some people concerned. They want to get rid of the rabies vaccination requirement.
The current ordinance says before a dog can be licensed the owner must present a certificate from a veterinarian saying the dog has a current rabies vaccination.
There is currently no state law that requires dogs to have a rabies vaccination in order to get licensed. The state law does allow counties to mandate dog licensing.
That's why county commissioners are questioning whether they can enforce a rabies vaccination requirement in order for dog owners to obtain a dog license.
"From a public health perspective it's a little scary," said Flathead County Animal Shelter Director Cliff Bennett.
Bennett and other health officials are worried.
"We would like to see people have the incentive to keep their animals vaccinated. We don't need them in here and we don't need the fees that we collect on that," Bennett said.
But county officials say they have no authority to enforce it.
"The issue arises because the state has not authorized the county, or in other ways enacted a statute that requires a rabies vaccine," said Flathead County Deputy Attorney David Randall.
That's why the county wants to update the current ordinance.
"The Flathead County Attorney's Office was originally tasked with bringing the dog ordinance into compliance with Montana code, and basically that's what our office did," Randall said.
Montana code says you can require licensing, you can control vicious dogs and dogs running at large. But it doesn't say you can require a rabies vaccination in order to get a license.
"We get dogs in here who have bitten people and cannot show a rabies currency and they have to be quarantined for 10 days," said Bennett.
Last year there were more than 100 possible cases of human exposure to rabies.
Bennett isn't sure why the ordinance is being questioned.
"It is done in other communities in Montana without being impuned," Bennett said.
"To my knowledge there has not been any legal implications of enforcing a rabies vaccine requirement attached with licensing as it has been done previously," Randall said.
Randall says there is some value in changing the current ordinance.
"By bringing our ordinance into compliance with Montana state statute, we run less of a risk of having the ordinance challenged," said Randall.
Bennett says if there is no true consequence, it is important to keep people and dogs safe.
"I'd like to think that we can find a way to please everyone and keep requirements for rabies vaccinations going," said Bennett.
No official decision has been made yet. There will be a second reading of the ordinance and opportunity for public comment on January 28.