When a pet dies, license renewals keep coming

Imperfect system can stress grieving pet owners with penalty threats

When Joe Seither found his beloved dog Cairo dead of congestive heart failure in his backyard six months ago, he was devastated, as any pet owner would be. Six weeks later, he suffered another shock: His golden retriever, Cosmo, had a gut full of tumors that caused internal bleeding and a major seizure. Seither opted to have the dog euthanized.

"He collapsed right in front of me one day last December. ... He took his last and longest nap while we petted his head," Seither recalled.

Vivid memories of the two animals' deaths came rushing back recently when Seither received dog-license renewal notices from Palo Alto Animal Services. The letters demanded payment for the overdue license fees and threatened penalties.

"License fees for my dead dogs," he wrote in a long email to Sandra Pretari, head of licensing for the city's animal services, which handles Palo Alto as well as Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Then last week he received final-notice certified letters for breaking the law, which requires that dogs have a rabies vaccination every one to three years, depending on the type of injection, and a renewed license.

Seither's ire stems from the city's databases -- which are based on veterinarian information -- not being updated to show when a pet has died and therefore no longer needs a license.

"I know you pull pet and owner data from vets within your service area, so why can't you keep your data file updated for pet deaths? ... How many pet owners per year, per month, per week do you bother and upset with such letters?" he wrote in his email to Pretari.

But Connie Urbanski, animal services superintendent, said that while her department does collect information from veterinarians regarding rabies vaccinations, veterinary hospitals don't let the agency know when a pet has died.

"The only way we find out is if the owner tells us. There's no way to know. I feel very sorry for him," she said.

Licenses are based on the duration of the vaccine and can be good for one, two or three years. Dog owners get an automatic renewal notice 30 days prior to the license-expiration date; they have another 30 days to have their pets re-vaccinated and licensed, Urbanski said.

For grieving pet owners such as Seither, the death of a pet -- and the notices -- can be traumatic. It never occurred to him to call animal services to report the deaths, Seither said in a follow-up email to the Weekly.

Adobe Animal Hospital personnel confirmed that veterinarians are required by state law to report rabies vaccinations, but pet hospitals are not required to report an animal's death. Many deaths are also not reported to the veterinary hospital if the pet died at home or was not euthanized by the veterinarian, a hospital staff member said.

There is no way for animal services to determine if a license is no longer needed, unless the owner notifies animal services of the pet's demise, the staff member added.

But Seither said there should be a better way.

"If it's possible, desirable and convenient to pull some pet data from vets, it seems dead simple to keep that database current. A unique rabies vaccine identifier is appended to each of my pets, so at the very least, the database could be periodically scrubbed for 'vaccine records no longer valid' or some such thing," Seither wrote in his email to the Weekly.

"This is a data-sharing-system design error that unnecessarily causes pet owners hassle, at a minimum, and likely some measure of grief. If this wasn't Silicon Valley, maybe lousy database management wouldn't be so irritating," he added.

Seither continued, saying, "I'd really rather remember my dogs alive and playing together. ... And I'd really like to never again receive a letter demanding payment for an expired license tag on a pet of mine that has expired."


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


23 people like this
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 7, 2016 at 7:35 am

Joe, sorry for your loss, but it should be your responsibility to report the death of your dog to the Palo Alto Animal Services. We don't need another data base.

13 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2016 at 7:45 am

We've lost 3 dogs since we have moved here. Never any problems with Animal Services. You just need to let them know the pet has died.


30 people like this
Posted by Messed Up!
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2016 at 8:20 am

I have lost four dogs in the years since we moved to Palo Alto. Each and every time, both my veterinarian and I reported the death to Animal Services. Each and every time I received a bill for a license fee anywhere from two months to three years after each death.

In three of those cases, I re-reported the death to Animal Services: there is a box you can check on the form that indicates that the dog is deceased.

In the fourth case, my dog was being treated for cancer, and was not allowed to have vaccinations of any kind while suffering cancer, as a vaccination could prove fatal. FOUR times, I had letters from two veterinarians to prove this, but Animal Services kept billing me all the same. Two years later, the dog is cured, but still not allowed to have the rabies vaccine, since it has the most side effects for a dog with a weakened immune system. Despite letters from veterinarians, Animal Services continues to harass me.

I think something has changed in the protocol or dynamics of Animal Services, that they now ignore customer and veterinary notifications.

5 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 7, 2016 at 10:06 am

Requiring dead animals to be licensed would be a boon for city finances. Why not? There are other ridiculous laws on the books. Seems like a good idea to me.

Sorry for the loss Joe. I've lost several cats over the years and saying goodbye is always tough.

3 people like this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 7, 2016 at 10:41 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

I just renewed my dog's license from the first notice. It clearly says "Please contact our office immediately if you have moved or no longer have your dog." They have gotten better in that they no longer require proof a dog is neutered every time you renew the license. And they say that "overpayments will be neither returned nor credited."

I am very sorry for Mr. Seither's losses.

21 people like this
Posted by Mr.BBQ
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2016 at 10:48 am

Our dog passed and we had moved out of the area. The city of Palo Alto wouldn't believe us that we had moved prior to the expiration of the dog license for our dead dog. The City turned us over to a bill collection agency. A bunch of unreasonable people work for the agency, why didn't they check the utility records noting that we moved. As it stands now we have a note into the collection agency and have heard nothing back from them. The issue regardind our dogs expired rabies license has been on going for over a year. Just insane, why does the city require proof you have moved or your dog ids dead? my dog has gone to dog heaven prior to the expiration of his license, plus we moved after he pasted and prior to the expiration of the tag.
Hink to the City-We are the family that moved to Pebble Beach

12 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 7, 2016 at 11:20 am

It sounds like there are at least some people at the licensing department that
are not doing their jobs right. Are they getting paid by how much money they
can bring in? Do they know people in the collection agencies? Are they just
incompetent at their jobs? Or is there a flaw in the canine death reporting
procedure? Seems like someone ... like the head of the department needs to
do their job and monitor the quality of the work of his people.

On the other hand, whenever you work with the public you never know what
you are going to hear or how accurate it is, and people will lie about their dogs
being dead just to avoid paying the licensing fee. How about a little better
reporting with some actual facts? Is that too much to expect?

14 people like this
Posted by Joe Seither
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 7, 2016 at 11:36 am

A couple comments to add: 1) I live in Los Altos, my vet is in Los Altos, so when this all came down, it wasn't really intuitive that I should call Palo Alto Animal Services. Turns out, Los Altos outsources to Palo Alto Animal Services. 2) A monthly data dump from vets that call out deltas from the previous month would suffice: active IDs to add, inactive IDs to drop. "There's no way to know." Yes there is.

7 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2016 at 12:00 pm

@Joe. A data dump would only work if there was an easy way to guarantee matches. Does your vet have your PA dog license number? Do you always use the same address, phone,etc. It sounds simple until you get into the details.

Yes someone could manually spend lots of time trying to match up pet deaths. The easier way is to call Animal Services. The same as you would if a human died and you start calling all the papers, magazines, netflix, comcast, etc.


8 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 7, 2016 at 12:33 pm

It is very unlikely a cop will show up at your door if you put the notice in the recycle bin.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Obviously a pet is a member of the family and is nothing like car ownership, but I think from the perspective of doing the legal business of owning a pet it is very similar to the legal business of owning a car. When a car is no longer in your ownership, you have to be pro-active with the legal paperwork. Owning a pet is very much the same, being pro-active at the time of the pet's death is part of the responsibilities of pet ownership.

12 people like this
Posted by Wanna Bet???
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Wanna Bet??? is a registered user.

@Roger: If you toss the notice a cop won't show up, BUT Animal Services will report you to a collection agency. That will then show up on your credit report. Good luck buying a house when you have a ding in your credit even for a $30 mistake!

Then again, Animal Services is now under the auspices of the PAPD, so maybe a cop will show up on your doorstep!

12 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 7, 2016 at 2:02 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

Just skip getting the license in the first place and there will be no problem with renewals.

1 person likes this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 7, 2016 at 5:07 pm

"@Roger: If you toss the notice a cop won't show up, BUT Animal Services will report you to a collection agency."

Then truthfully mark the envelope "deceased, return to sender" and put it out for return mail collection.

12 people like this
Posted by Wanna Bet???
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Wanna Bet??? is a registered user.

Roger: I always do, but no one at Animal Services seems to take notice-- or, they all sit unopened on someone's desk. As aforementioned, something is not right or someone is not doing their job!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 7,382 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 2,466 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,400 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 930 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 25 comments | 718 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More