Man’s best friend: Dog licensing in Monroe County

Brothers Milton and Ed Barry with their dogs in 1912. They are sitting on the front steps of their home at the corner of Lenox Avenue and Elizabeth Street in East Stroudsburg.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director

Monroe County Historical Association

Many Monroe County citizens, myself included, are dog lovers. We find companionship, security, protection, and comfort in the presence of our dogs. From sleeping in their owners’ beds to receiving up-to-date medical care, many dogs are indeed members of the family. One of the responsibilities of dog ownership is ensuring that our pets are properly registered.

Keeping a record of the domestic dogs in an area is not a new idea. The first record of a dog’s being licensed was in Holland in 1446, and the first evidence that dog owners were taxed for their pets was in Germany in 1598.

Locally, licensing man’s best friend dates back to the late 1800s. In 1897, 2,136 canines were registered with a total of $1,068 paid to the County (although the Stroudsburg Times newspaper admitted that this could not have been an exact number of dogs within the county’s boundary). Stroud Township had the most registered dogs at 259, while Delaware Water Gap had the least with 33 dogs.

Four years later, the front-page article of the August 24, 1901 edition of the
Stroudsburg Times reported a peculiar anomaly; there were many male dogs and very few female dogs in Monroe County.

In fact, according to the Monroe County Accessor’s reports, Price Township, Smithfield Township, and the Borough of Stroudsburg had no female dogs living in their municipalities. Ross Township had one, and Delaware Water Gap had two. Only three female dogs were reported in Jackson and Middle Smithfield Townships, and Hamilton Township had four. Eldred, Pocono, Price, and Tunkhannock Townships each boasted five female dogs. Paradise Township had seven dogs, and both Stroud and Tobyhanna Townships had one more than Paradise. Chestnuthill Township had 12 registered female dogs, Coolbaugh Township had 15, and East Stroudsburg had 21 female dogs. Barrett Township had the most female dogs with 24.

In total, records indicate that 2,203 dogs were registered in Monroe County – 2,075 were male, and only 128 were female.

The article suggested that scientists should consider studying the problem for there were numerous puppies in Monroe County but “where they come from is a mystery.” In a tongue-in-cheek manner, the article also suggested that perhaps dogs “grow on trees.”

There really was no mystery; owners were taxed $1 for each female dog but only 50 cents for each male dog. In reflecting on this 1901 dog census and following the discovery of the lack of funds owed the county, the Monroe County Commissioners considered engaging a “veterinary surgeon” to help make the assessments for the following year.

One hundred years ago, in 1916, the Monroe County Commissioners were forced to take more serious action regarding dog licensing. According to the January 17, 1916 minutes of the commissioners’ meeting, “The Clerk was instructed to notify through the Press that all Dogs upon which Taxes were not paid by Feb. 1st 1916 would be Killed by the Constable’s of their respective Districts also to furnish Constables of the Several Districts with a list of Dogs upon which Taxes have not been paid.”

The clerk did as he was ordered and a 1.25 inch-square notice appeared at the bottom of page 5 in the
Morning Press newspaper. While this was a little shocking for this dog lover to uncover, the Monroe County Commissioners were simply following the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In 1893, Act 88 of the Pennsylvania Legislature established laws for the taxation of dogs. The law established that county commissioners across the commonwealth were responsible for assessing, imposing, and collecting an annual tax on dogs and that the rate for female dogs should not exceed $4 and the rate for male dogs should not exceed $2.

The law also established that the taxes and fees be paid to the county or city treasurer and that a record of the owner’s name with a description of each dog be recorded. The reason for the tax was to create a fund in which damages could be paid to individuals whose sheep were killed or injured by one or more dogs.

The money collected from enacting the 1893 law would support the necessary investigation of the complaint of the loss of sheep as well as the time spent filing the paper work to submit a claim, the time of the magistrate, and the subsequent resolution of the case. If the owner’s dog was innocent, all charges were dropped. If the dog did maim or kill a sheep, the dog was to be killed, and the funds from the dog license tax were to be used to pay the farmer for the loss of his or her sheep.

Fourteen years after its enactment, the law was revised into what is known as the “Dog Law of 1917.” The amended law included compensation for livestock other than sheep and included liability for undocumented dogs.

It read, “It shall be the duty of every police officer to kill any dog which does not bear a proper license tag which is found running at large.” The document defined “running at large” as “Strolling without restraint or confinement, as rambling, roving or wandering at will, unrestrained without anyone to hinder or direct them.” Also included were dogs that were found trespassing on someone’s property without their owner’s presence.

Records of 1918 show that the Monroe County constables did enforce the 1917 Pennsylvania Dog Law. Printed forms were filled out and submitted to the Monroe County Commissioners by each constable in each district.

The “Constable’s Statement of Dogs Killed” document gave the date of the constable’s action and listed both the name of the dog’s owner and the number of dogs killed. The form also included a record of the fee collected by the constable. Delinquent owners were charged $1 per euthanized dog and an additional 50 cents if the owner wanted the dog to be buried.

While negligent owners were penalized with a fine, it is very sad that the dogs were the ones who were truly punished. Thankfully, there exist only a handful of the receipts to document the actions of local constables performing their duty to enforce the Dog Law.

In the Borough of Stroudsburg, 29 animals were destroyed. Seven were killed in East Stroudsburg. The constable in Tobyhanna Township had to put down 14 dogs, and the officials in Eastern Coolbaugh dealt with four. One dog was euthanized in Jackson Township. Some of these dogs had owners; others were “unclaimed” or their owners were “unknown.”

Today, dogs are still required to be licensed. It is the law. While unlicensed dogs do not receive a death sentence, owners of unregistered dogs face large fines and possible court expenses.

Licensing must be done through the Monroe County Treasurer’s office, and the rates are very reasonable. And licensing costs are now the same price whether the dog is male or female. A regular yearly dog license for a male or female dog is $8.50, and if the dog is spayed or neutered, the cost is $6.50. The annual rates are even lower for dog owners who are senior citizens or who are disabled. Prices haven’t increased much in 100 years. Licensing our four-legged family members is one of the duties of responsible dog owners.

Special thank you to the Monroe County Archives for providing information for this article.