More dogs — adopted during pandemic — stress town services

Belgian Malinois puppy


Special to the Observer

Dog adoptions have skyrocketed this past year, and with the influx of furry friends comes a renewed struggle to get dogs licensed, keep them healthy and get dog waste into trash cans.

Pet rescues, breeders and shelters from around the country are reporting heightened demand for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic as people try to fill a void, and Williston is no exception. Ericka Canales, co-owner of Long Trail Veterinary Center on Williston Road, said she’s seen a dramatic uptick in clients, new and old. 

“There has not been any slow-down for us in this industry, and we’ve had an increase of clients,” Canales said. 

With people becoming vaccinated, more folks are bringing in their pets that haven’t been seen in years, Canales said, and new dogs are still being brought in consistently.

As new dog owners welcome their new companions home, many haven’t been licensing them. All dogs are required to be registered in the town that they reside, said Williston Town Clerk Sarah Mason.

“You know, it really is no different than a hunting license or a marriage license, things that are required by the state. You do need to have one,” Mason said. “The amount of licensed dogs is probably at a record low right now, when the actual number of dogs in Williston (and everywhere) is at an all-time high.” 

The town has, in the past, done free leash events to try to bring more people in to license their dogs. Attendees would receive a free leash and poop bags. These events didn’t bring in a huge crowd, and the town opted against it this year because of COVID-19. 

The licensing process requires dog owners to put a rabies certificate and a check for $13 in the drop box at the back of town hall. Mason will then mail a tag and license. If the pet is not spayed or neutered, the price increases to $17. 

“People sometimes think that the law doesn’t apply to them, but this law applies to everybody,” Mason said. “The main reason behind it is to make sure dogs are vaccinated against rabies.

Part of the money received from dog licenses goes to rabies clinics, and the other part goes to a spay and neutering clinic, “so there is some good behind the whole idea,” Mason said. 

Williston Conservation Planner Melinda Scott said there is a disruptive number of dog waste bags left behind along trails or at trailhead parking lots in town. People leaving bags behind “has as much or more impact than people just not using the bags,” Scott said. 

The environmental impact on the parks is real — the Environmental Protection Agency says that dog waste can worsen water quality and contribute to algae blooms. Williston does not have the funds to hire people to maintain garbage cans, which is why most Williston parks enforce a carry-in, carry-out policy, Scott said. 

The Adopt-a-Trail program in Williston gives community members the opportunity to maintain a trail of their choice, by cleaning up litter and clearing brush. Volunteers can then report larger problems to the town for maintenance. 

This program, though helpful for maintaining trails and bringing community members into that process, does not negate the need to clean up after pups.

“It’s not a good message to put out that other people are going to take care of your trash,” Scott said. 

Ivy Kirby and Sarah Sciortino are reporters with the Community News Service, a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.