By JOHN T. WARD
When Little Silver resident Delynn Mehrlander got a notice in the mail earlier this year reminding her to re-license her dog, Jode, she tossed it away.
Jode, a 10-year-old yellow lab, had been put down with cancer five months earlier, so there was no dog to license, she reasoned.
About a month ago came a summons, telling her she’d violated the local animal licensing law.
Mehrlander says she called borough hall to explain, but was told that the summons was for “failure to notify,” and that she’d have to show up in municipal court if she wanted to fight the $5 penalty.
Confused over how the nature of the summons could change after the fact, she says she looked into the Little Silver dog-licensing ordinance. There, she found no mention of an animal owner’s obligation to notify the town of a dog’s death, nor any reference to a failure-to-notify violation.
Instead, she learned that the ordinance requires the police department to conduct an annual canvass each January “of all dogs owned, kept or harbored” in the borough, with the information to be filed with the borough clerk a process that would appear to obviate the need for the owners of dogs that have died to notify the town themselves. Licenses must be applied for by January 31.
“A very small part of me wanted desperately not to show up in court and see if a bench warrant would be issued,” Mehrlander, a dermatology nurse and owner of Jodes Happy Tail, a maker of organic dog treats sold in local stores and animal hospitals, told redbankgreen.
Still, she found herself earlier this month at the cattle call that is municipal court, among defendants charged with DWI, domestic offenses and yelling at police officers, she said. Also present was another woman summonsed for failure to register, “only, her dog was alive,” Mehrlander said.
She spoke to the prosecutor, Mike Halfacre, who is also the mayor in Fair Haven, who told her he would ask Judge James Berube to dismiss the charge, but that she would have to pay $15 in court costs. Mehrlander did just that, but wasn’t happy about it.
Halfacre tells redbankgreen that the town makes “repeated” attempts to notify dog owners of their licensing obligations, and that a phone call to the borough clerk’s office by Mehrlander would have headed off the summons.
“The summons was for not responding,” he said. “We don’t know the dog is dead. So you get a summons when you ignore the request.”
Halfacre said he sees similar cases “all the time” in Rumson, where he also serves as the town prosecutor.
Mehrlander thinks the re-licensing notification needs to be clearer, telling residents they must report to the town when they no longer have a dog.
She now has a seven-month-old yellow lab pup named Henry, who she got in May and licensed right away, she said.