Story Archive

A Responsible Citizen

“No court and total dismissal!!!!!” wrote Becky Rehr, 47, a surgical nurse, volunteer soccer manager, and married mother of two, in an e-mail to a reporter. “I’m free!!!!” Rehr conceded that she got a warning before her dog’s license expired, then another notice, and even a home visit to warn her that a warrant would be issued for her arrest, but somehow she’s still shocked to have discovered this was a criminal matter in Kalamazoo County, Mich. “I had every intention of taking care of it, but with the end of the school year and my job, it just totally got put on the back burner.” She did get the license renewed, but not until the warrant had been issued. After she got a letter telling her to turn herself in, she went to the jail, expecting to clear things up quickly. Per procedure, she was booked; per usual practice when there are no other problems, the case was dismissed at the prosecutor’s request. Meanwhile, as Rehr’s story caught attention, the county dog-licensing office reported a major surge in Kalamazooans renewing late dog licenses. (AC/Kalamazoo Gazette) ...In other words, enforcement works.
When I spotted this story, I thought it was a "dumb law" story. But once I started writing, I realized that Rehr had behaved like a complete obliviot. Seriously, she got an in-person warning that if she didn't renew her dog license she'd be arrested. The law, on the other hand, turned out to be a lot more defensible: The dog-licensing scheme is used to protect the public against rabies (that is, against a health threat that does not depend on further voluntary action by the dog owner besides keeping an unvaccinated dog in an inhabited area), and Rehr's case got a lot of people to renew their dog licenses, which a mere civil fine would not have done. Notably, unlike the typical case of overcriminalization, violators here get plenty of notice: the scheme is designed to be effective at getting people to keep their dogs licensed, not to catch people unawares and throw them in prison for years. There is, however, a question about how valuable rabies vaccines are in a country where human deaths of rabies are down to two or three per year -- in part because of those very vaccines.
Original Publication Date: 19 July 2015
This story is in True’s book collections, in Volume 22.

Is There a Problem on This Page? Let Me Know using the Help button lower right, and thanks.

I believe humanity is held back by the lack of thinking. I provoke thought with examples of what happens when we don’t think, and when we do. This is True is my primary method: stories like this come out every week by email, and basic subscriptions are free. Click here for a subscribe form.

Search for: