Fewer dogs are getting licensed — and young city dwellers are probably to blame

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Fewer dogs are getting licensed in Connecticut — and we can probably blame young city dwellers.

In the 1985 fiscal year, about eight dogs were licensed for every 100 residents in the state. In the 2013 fiscal year, it dropped to 5.6.

Much of the decrease comes in the cities: Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk, Waterbury and Stamford. In FY 1985, there were about 2.8 licensed dogs per 100 residents in those cities; in FY 2013, that dropped to 1.3.

In all other cities, it went from 9.6 per 100 residents to 7.1.

But does this mean there are fewer dogs in Connecticut?

If only it were that simple.

Licensing has gone by the wayside

Each year, owners are required to renew their dog’s license. The State of Connecticut considers your pooch as property — and in lieu of property taxes, the state levies a license fee, according to Raymond Connors, head of the state’s Animal Control Division.

Even in the 1980s, an unscientific way to calculate the population was to double the number of dog licenses, Connors said — and, back then, there was a lot more focus put on door-to-door dog license surveys.

So in a perfect world, if everyone lined up to get their dogs licensed in June, this data would give us a good estimate of the dog population.

But the world isn’t perfect, and dog license data isn’t a good approximation for population. In fact, it isn’t even close — and if you’re a dog owner in Connecticut, you probably knew that; statistically, it’s unlikely your dog is licensed.

Even in the 1980s, an unscientific way to calculate the population was to double the number of dog licenses, Connors said — and, back then, there was a lot more focus on door-to-door dog license surveys. State officials often helped municipalities conduct these surveys. But these checkups have largely gone by the wayside, as municipalities struggle with financial problems and the state has fewer people to help, Connors said. This probably means a smaller percentage of owners are getting their dogs licensed.

Blame the young city dwellers

So, who are these law-abiding citizens who license their canines?

It certainly isn’t young city dwellers.

Dog licensing in the biggest cities has always been exceedingly rare — but in the past 30 years, it’s become even less common. About 0.6 dogs are registered for every 100 residents in Bridgeport, 0.5 in New Haven, and 0.4 in Hartford. (The state average for FY 2013 was 5.6.) This could hint that there are just aren’t that many dogs in these cities. But given that the nationwide dog population is rising — and cities seem to be no exception — it’s more likely that residents in these cities just aren’t registering their dogs.

Another factor that affects dog registration in cities might be their populations’ lower median ages. Connors says older residents “tend to be more aware that their dog needs to get a license,” and it shows in the data. There’s a decent correlation between towns with high median ages and towns with lots of dog licenses.

But the strongest correlation we could find for towns with high dog registrations per resident? Median income, which makes sense given the cost associated with a license.

We also thought dog licenses might also correlate strongly with political affiliation. After all, not everyone wants to tell the state about Fido. So we looked at whether there was a correlation between dog licenses and the percentage of residents who voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election.

There is, but not what we expected.

Towns that tilted more toward Republican Mitt Romney tended to register more dogs. But a large part of that is a function of age, since older towns are more often Republican-leaning. In fact, when we adjusted for age, political affiliation seemed to matter less.

Some towns have made a bigger push to do door-to-door surveys, because municipalities that survey at least 20 percent of their residents receive 60 percent of the licensing fees; everyone else gets 50 percent. (The fee is $8 for a spayed or neutered dog and $19 for others.) In FY 2012, the 11 towns that reached that mark licensed about 11 pets per 100 residents — which is almost exactly double that of other towns.

Connecticut is just not a dog state

So, all of this tells us who is more likely to register a dog. But how many of Connecticut’s dogs are registered?

Nationwide estimates help us get an idea of the picture. An American Veterinary Medical Foundation survey found that 36.5 percent of households own dogs. On the higher end, an American Pet Products Association study found that it’s closer to 47 percent. (If you’re so inclined, here is a good analysis of the disparity.)

But in Connecticut, dog ownership might be significantly lower.

A 2011 AVMF study found that just 28.3 percent of Connecticut’s households owned dogs, which was the third-lowest in the U.S. Only Massachusetts (23.6) and the District of Columbia (13.1) had a smaller percentage. The AVMA also estimated that a dog-owning household owned about 1.6 dogs. So using that estimate, we came up with the following estimate:

Formula: [CT households] x [Households owning dogs (%)] x [Dogs per household]
The Math: 1,356,000 x 0.283 x 1.6 = 613,997

So, according to that formula, there are about 614,000 dogs in the state — about one-third of whom are registered.

Now, there are many dog population estimates, and they are all over the board, which makes it especially difficult to figure out how many dogs are in the state. But whatever the estimate, it seems Connecticut just isn’t a dog state.

You can find the dog licensing data on the state’s open data portal. If you’re among those who license your dog — especially if you’re a young city dweller — tell us in the comments why you do it and how you first started doing it.

What do you think?

  • Peter Morgan

    The cost of owning a dog considerably outweighs the cost of the license, so it seems that income ought not much to determine directly whether someone obtains a dog license, *except* that a license can only be obtained (at least in New Haven) by providing evidence of rabies vaccination. That doesn’t necessarily require a visit to the vet, and the money to pay the vet, but other ways to get it done are even more of a hassle. Are there statistics for rabies vaccinations that can be compared with licensing? If licensing was just a matter of filling in a web form and paying $10, perhaps there would be higher compliance, but my understanding is that enforcing rabies vaccination is most of the point. Perhaps city dwellers are relatively more complacent about their dogs contracting rabies?

    • alvinschang

      That’s a *great* point that I didn’t have in my story. If anyone reading this knows about data on rabies vaccinations, please share.

      In the meantime, I’ll go down the rabbit hole to find that data.

  • Guy

    romney voters….really what a stupid article

    • alvinschang

      It was a proxy for political affiliation, which was tested statistically to see if there is correlation with licenses.

      I welcome critiques on the story, especially if they further the conversation. But in your comments, please cite data sources if you make a data claim.

      As far as name-calling, it will not be tolerated on this site.