Bureaucracy

Woman Arrested For Late Payment of $5 Dog License—and That's Business as Usual

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Elf

Ann Musser was arrested at her Holyoke, Massachusetts, home, according to media reports, and spent four and a half hours in jail—because she was tardy in paying her $5 dog license fee.

Well, actually, as Holyoke City Clerk Brenna McGee assured me, Musser was actually arrested on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court—over the tardy $5 dog license fee. Musser is a little preoccupied these days with ovarian cancer, which may explain why she put an administrative fee on the back burner. But then, it's common practice in Massachusetts to refer people to court after they've ignored or simply missed notices of tickets for even the pettiest of offenses. And since petty offenses have proliferated, including the non-payment of fees for the most mundane activities, court referrals and encounters with the police over…well…bullshit are not uncommon.

Musser "and her husband are also repeated offenders" McGee told me, referring to the dog license issue. Licenses for Fido and Spot are required by the state of Massachusetts and Holyoke, both. McGee assures me that "this is not about the collection of administrative fees. This is a violation of city ordinance." But the two are not mutually exclusive. The city application asks for little more than "$5.00 for spayed female or neutered male (please include proof of altering), or $15.00 for unspayed or unneutered" and identifying information.

The state asks for proof of vaccination for rabies, but the Holyoke application includes no such provision, and nobody alleges that the Musser's 14-year-old family dog, Pumpkin, was rabid or even unvaccinated.

But Brenna McGee reports that there are lots of ways to get referred to the court system.

It has been the practice of this office (M.G.L Chapter 40 section 21d) and other cities to report unpaid tickets to the court system. The process begins in February. Up to three notices are sent to remind dog owners to license their dogs by the deadline. If by June 1st the dog is not licensed a ticket is issued by the City Dog Officer. Tickets are marked very clearly that if no payment is received within 21 days the ticket is then sent to the court.

Musser told the Republican that she paid the $5 license fee and $25 late fee, but only after court proceedings had begun. She claims she attempted to appear in court and cooled her heels in a crowded courtroom for three hours, but left after her complaints that seating a woman with a faltering immune system in a crowd might be less than brilliant fell on deaf ears.

Not that it matters. Let's not forget that she was supposed to kill a day in an institutional room because she failed to pay for a permission slip to own a dog. The court then sent armed men to nab her because she chafed at remaining in after-school detention court. The situation would have been ludicrous even if she were perfectly healthy.

"Please also note," McGee told me, "that ALL tickets are sent to the court after 21 days of no payment, not just dog tickets. To name a few: possession of marijuana, loud music, emptying of bulk waste containers before 7am, motorized scooters, animal waste, shopping carts, tag sale permit."

Yes, you can really end up summoned to court, and perhaps arrested for failure to appear, for not paying for a permission slip to have a tag sale.

"I do know that people have been arrested in Holyoke for dog tickets and most recently a few weeks ago in Belchertown," McGee said. "And yes, there have been arrests for unpaid other tickets as well. One just a few weeks ago in Holyoke." She didn't remember what the last arrest was for, other than that it was an ordinance violation.

Speaking of revenue, state laws specify that, once court proceedings have begun over dog licenses, tag sales, and the like, "any fines imposed under the provisions of this section shall enure to the city or town for such use as said city or town may direct." So there just may be a bit of incentive to proliferate those petty, annoying ordinances and send defaulters courtward-bound.

To be clear, Brenna McGee isn't the villain here—just a city clerk kind enough to answer questions. Similar answers would have been forthcoming from most officials in her position in Massachusetts and elsewhere. In a hyper-regulated world, everything becomes a subject for administrative procedures, the begging of permission, and the payment of fees. And hyper-regulated as we are, disorganization or defiance of even the stupidest rules become grounds for encounters with armed men.

I asked McGee whether she and her colleagues ever discussed the appropriateness of the system that ensnared Musser. She declined to respond, though assured me that medical conditions are taken into account when they're known—a bit of mercy from the bureaucratic class, should they choose to grant it.

Ann Musser shouldn't have been exempted from arrest for being sick. She should have been free of fear of arrest for violating intrusive rules that have no business on the books and should certainly never be enforced by armed agents of the state.

The people who put those rules in place, and let the armed agents run loose, are the real villains.

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  1. “”this is not about the collection of administrative fees. This is a violation of city ordinance.”

    Did she say that with a straight face? I had to laugh.

    1. Yeah, that’s pretty rich. It’s not as though there would be any grounds for the city to deny the dog license. You pay your $5, you get your tag. So the ordinance she violated was….not paying the $5.

      On a related note, why is it any of the city’s business who has a dog? Seriously, what is the point of dog licenses? (Besides the obvious opportunity to take another bite out of taxpayers’ wallets.)

      1. Because it’s obviously a privilege granted by the state to “own” a particular animal.

        1. And to fund the dog licensing department.

      2. don’t forget the nanny-state awesomeness of being able to charge more for un-neutered pets. that gives somebody a boner.

      3. The usual justification is to hold owners liable for damage to property or injury caused by their pets and to show ownership in property cases. Which *may* possibly have some validity. If, for example, somebody’s dog bites me and I try to sue them and they claim it was a stray that wandered onto their property, or if somebody steals my dog out of my yard while I’m at work and claims it is theirs. We register other types of property for similar reasons. Vehicles and real estate, for example.

  2. The town I am looking to move to has in its budget (I checked the municipalities I was interested in to make sure they operated reasonably) “cat licenses”. The total revenue they expect in a year for cat licenses in the town of nearly 12,000 people is $20.

    1. Holy shit. Even the idea of a dog license blows my mind. But a cat license? What in the actual fuck?

      1. And clearly it’s completely unenforced. What the fuck is the point?

        1. So the town can fuck with you or take your cat if they want.

        2. Most laws are completely unenforced. But they give a great excuse to screw with someone when they get the official radar.

      2. I lived in a city with mandatory cat licensing years ago. My 2 mostly-indoor Persians, one with a bum leg, neither of which could climb the 6 foot chain link fence, were both scofflaws.

      3. It isn’t so unreasonable. What happens if a bad cat attacks a child? Have you thought of that? Good to know whom to sue. What if a cat poops in my garden? Who pays then? The civil service has our backs.

  3. Could she demand a trial by jury?

    1. You should be able to demand trial by combat with the bureaucratic tit in charge of whatever department administers the ordinance you violated.

  4. I have an unlicensed dog. He’s a total badass rebel.

    1. Nice pit bull you got there!

      1. Yeah, I use him for dogfights.

    2. Cute. Keep him far away from cops.

  5. Land of the free, motherfucker.

    Just wait ’til they start doing this to people who don’t have health insurance.

    1. Remember, if you say that outlawing discrimination means you sending people to jail for refusing to bake a cake, you’re just being ridiculous.

  6. My sister just got the new license for her dog in the mail last week. Unfortunately this has given me no addition insight.

    1. In MA, of course.

  7. My wife was pulled over on a traffic violation on the way to work one morning. They ran her license and discovered she had a warrant for failure to appear in court for…. an off-leash dog ticket. Backup was called, they handcuffed her, and she spent 9 hours in the Denver jail. She fit in real well in her corporate VP attire.

    1. Was that actually in the city of Denver? Or was it one of the more hostile burbs like Greenwood Village?

      1. No, this was in Denver proper. I, too, thought they’d have something better to do.

    2. This shit always amazes me, the sheer inefficiency of all that civic expense to collect some idiotic $5 ticket.

      So much simpler to just leave it on the books and refuse to accept any complaints or even official paperwork until those penny ante debts are paid.

      You want to sue somebody who owes you money or wouldn’t obey a contract? Fine, pay your other civil debts first.

      1. I figured it cost a pretty penny for them to process my wife, set her up with all the accoutrements of a jail stay, etc. I went with her to court. The court, no shit, was entirely dedicated to pet offenses, and had pictures of dogs and cats on the walls. At the end, it was a $25 fine. To add insult, the dog for which she was busted was dead by the time this all happened. The jail happily noted that she won’t need to stay as long next time because she’s already been through the system. I guess she has her jail clear pass now.

        1. And… that should go above, of course.

      2. The state loves money, but the thing it loves even more is power. Keep that in mind, and it all makes sense.

        1. Money is power.

  8. To be clear, Brenna McGee isn’t the villain here?just a city clerk kind enough to answer questions.

    Orders were followed.

    1. Because there’s no difference between arresting someone for a petty offence and being a low-level bureaucrat who has to try and answer to the press for said arrest.

      Christ, if you give this woman slack, next thing you’ll be accepting comment threading or some such thing.

      1. A clerk such as herself passed the infraction on to the authorities so she could be arrested. I’m sure Brenna McGee has done just such things numerous times knowing exactly what could result. She is culpable.

    2. Brenna McGee isn’t the villain here?just a city clerk kind enough to answer questions.

      She’s just making sure the paperwork is in order before the trains leave for the camps.

      She facilitates this garbage, and gets paid to do so. Close enough for me.

      1. Yeah, and bench warrants for failure to appear and notices to appear for tickets are just like the fucking Holocaust.

        Truly, there is nothing ridiculous about this rhetoric.

        Sometimes I remember why non-Libertarians think we’re all wacko anarchists.

        1. It’s a valid comparison. Participation in the system is part of the system. She was just following orders, etc. This is precisely how tyranny lives and breathes – and in the end, becomes extreme. Pretending it’s “different” is excusing it and giving it fertilizer to grow.

  9. Hello anarcho-tyranny my old friend.

  10. I’m assuming the unlicensed dog was shot, per procedure, during the arrest?

  11. thanks to heroes in blue for keeping a known criminal off the streets. had she not been arrested, she might have failed to buy the permit for even more dogs! ok, sure, she would have licensed them, eventually, but, you know, not by the deadline. If pet dogs are not licensed by the city’s deadline, the terrorists win

  12. Do you all really want roving packs of rabies infested dogs roaming the streets and burbs of MA? What happens if a child gets bitten? It would be chaos!

  13. It all comes down to the lawyers writing the regs/codes. If I was a bright young thing with nothing to lose I’d be creating an online resource tracking lawyers and political staffers who write the laws that bind.

    Many cities are completely driven by codes penned by bored, overpaid lawyers who don’t give a single shit about ethics. And some of these cities are managed by dunces who can work a factory job or plow a field but lack the depth of cognitive ability to look into the ethics of their city’s law manual.

    1. Not really. It’s your local officials responding to some goody-two-shoes or busybody who shows up at a town meeting with a complaint about a loose dog or a trash can left outside or a noisy teenager. To shut them up, the officials respond with an ordinance.

      1. Yes, but the ordinance is broadly penned by a lawyer. Find the lawyer or lawyer firm and post his or her business info on the web. It’s time to start shaming those who write bad laws.

        1. Fuck, ‘law firm’.

  14. The “people who put those rules in place” are the people who put the legislators who created them in place: the voters of Massachusetts. So if anyone there is annoyed they should be looking in the mirror for the source of their annoyance.

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