A bill in Colorado would have required that pet owners pay to register each and every one of their furry or scaly friends with the state. While the bill was thankfully withdrawn, the meddlesome sentiment among lawmakers is not new.
House Bill 1163, sponsored by Rep. Regina English (D–Colorado Springs), would have required the state Commissioner of Agriculture to “develop, implement, and maintain an online pet animal registration system” by July 1, 2025. Colorado pet owners would then be required to register each of their pets with the state at a cost of up to $8.50 apiece, or $16 for dogs or cats that are not spayed or neutered. Pet parents would also have to “designate a caregiver” for their animals in the event of an emergency; any animals without a designated caregiver would cost $25 per year.
The bill defines “pet animal” to include cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, fish, rodents, reptiles, and “any other species of wild or domestic or hybrid animal six months of age or older, that is sold, transferred, or retained for the purpose of being kept as a household pet.”
At a minimum, the database would be required to capture the name, address, email address, and cell phone number of both the pet owner and the designated caregiver, as well as the name, age, and breed of each pet and whether the pet is dangerous.
According to the bill’s text, the database would function like a next-of-kin notification, in which first responders could “locate and contact the caregiver” if a pet owner is killed or incapacitated.
But it’s not clear that such an intrusion into pet owners’ personal lives is warranted, or necessary.
After all, police handle next-of-kin notifications for human beings without requiring a centralized state database. While pets are an important part of many people’s lives, it’s the owner’s responsibility to provide for their care in the event of an emergency. For example, many vendors offer “In Case of Emergency” stickers that not only tell emergency responders how many animals are inside but also provide an emergency contact number.
The pricing structure of the Colorado database is onerous as well. The law defines “pet animal” so broadly as to include any animal except livestock. One child with a pet hamster would cost their parents $8.50 per year. But what happens if the hamster gives birth? One hamster litter can contain a dozen or more “pups”—would the owners then have to pay the state an additional $102 and register a close friend’s contact information when the hamsters hit six months old?
While the Colorado bill is dead—English told a local news outlet that she had withdrawn the legislation—many cities and counties already require pet registration.
Denver, for example, requires residents to register all dogs or cats over six months old. Fulton County, Georgia, which contains part of Atlanta, also requires owners to register their dogs and cats, as does Maricopa County, Arizona. Los Angeles, on the other hand, requires the registration of dogs and horses.
Proponents argue that registration provides a benefit for both animals and their owners—for example, allowing animal control officers to quickly determine how to reunite a lost dog or cat with its family. But a collar tag serves the exact same purpose, only costs a few dollars, and doesn’t require you to give any information to a state agency.
Considering that many jurisdictions—including the ones mentioned above—require you to display a license tag on the pet’s collar, it’s not clear what function the license serves that a $5 tag from PetSmart wouldn’t accomplish just as well. Besides, pets are routinely microchipped, allowing a veterinarian to quickly find contact information for a lost pet’s owner.
Local governments are within their rights to ensure, for example, that dogs are vaccinated against rabies, a deadly communicable disease that can spread to both animals and humans. And it makes sense to task wildlife or animal control officers with policing dangerous animals—pets or otherwise—that could harm people or their pets.
But otherwise, short of extreme cases of abuse and neglect, general everyday pet care is the purview of a pet’s owner, not the state or local government. While undoubtedly drafted with good intentions, the Colorado bill, like the others from around the country, represented an unnecessary state intrusion into pet owners’ lives.