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."