Failure to Renew Dog License Lands Michigan Mom in Jail

becky-rehr-dexter

Becky Wehr with her dog Dexter

KALAMAZOO, MI — On her way to a Shipshewana shopping trip on June 23, Becky Rehr swung by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office to show her $35 receipt proving she finally renewed the license for the family dog.

While her 14-year-old daughter waited in the car, Rehr followed the clerk out of the reception area. To her horror, she found that she was not being led to an office, but to the booking area of the county jail, where she was fingerprinted, had a mug shot taken and was put in a holding area with jail inmates.

“They frisked me and put me in this intake cell with all these inmates in orange jumpsuits,” Rehr said. “I was pretty nervous.”

It took three hours before she was released on $100 bond, allowing her to return to her daughter, still waiting in the car.

“Luckily, she had her iPhone,” said Rehr, 47, of Cooper Township.

On Tuesday, Rehr faces arraignment on a criminal charge of failure to renew a dog license, a misdemeanor in Kalamazoo County punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $100 fine. Her court hearing is before Kalamazoo County District Judge Christopher Haenicke.

Rehr admits she was lax about renewing the license for the family’s 11-year-old springer/border collie mix, Dexter. Still, she’s shocked and horrified her forgetfulness ended up in an arrest warrant and being booked, even though she had already paid the dog-license fees.

Her co-workers at Bronson Methodist Hospital “think I’m kidding,” said Rehr, who is a surgical nurse. “They think there’s no way this is how we’re spending our tax dollars.”

Criminal charges for not renewing a dog license are allowed under the Kalamazoo County animal control ordinance.

Steve Lawrence, director of Kalamazoo County Animal Control, said the agency seeks arrest warrants about “four or five times a month” for people who haven’t renewed a dog license. The county has 32,000 licensed dogs.

“We’re not looking to punish people,” Lawrence said. “We’re just looking for people to get their dog license.”

In Rehr’s situation, the criminal charge is typically dropped once the person shows proof of obtaining the license, said Carrie Klein, Kalamazoo County’s chief assistant prosecutor.

“Every case needs to be evaluated, but if it just completely got away from you and there’s nothing else going on, it likely will get dismissed,” Klein said.

It’s a different story if it happens repeatedly, or if Animal Control has reported other issues with the dog owner, such as animal cruelty, she said.

Both Lawrence and Klein said a warrant isn’t issued until the agency has given multiple warnings about an overdue license renewal, including letters, a notice posted on the dog owner’s front door and typically a phone call.

Rehr admits she got those warnings.

“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,” said Rehr, who has two teenage daughters and a husband who travels on business.

She finally got the license renewed on Thursday, June 18, she said.

Four days later, on Monday, June 22, she got a letter saying an arrest warrant had been issued and she needed to report to the Kalamazoo County Jail.

“I already had the license and I’m a law-abiding citizen,” Rehr said, so she figured she could show authorities the license and “get it taken care of.”

So the next morning, Rehr assumed she could stop at the jail, show officials the new dog license and the letter about the warrant, and soon be on her way. She couldn’t have imagined she’d be fingerprinted, photographed and detained.

Rehr’s husband Todd, an engineer, was out of town on business when Rehr called to tell him what happened. He couldn’t believe it.

“He was, like, you were what?” she said.

Rehr was relieved to hear from a Kalamazoo Gazette reporter that officials say the charge likely will be dismissed.

She said she’s called five lawyers for advice, three of whom told her she should hire an attorney and fight the charges and two who told her to plead guilty and it would likely get expunged down the line.

Rehr, whose said her only previous brush with the law is a speeding ticket, doesn’t want a criminal record — even if it is a misdemeanor.

“It doesn’t look good,” she said, especially for someone with a nursing license and who volunteers as a manager for a soccer team. “A misdemeanor is what you get when you have a meth lab or a DUI or something like that.”

Rehr said she’s shocked that Kalamazoo County considers renewal of a dog license a criminal offense rather than a civil infraction. A fine seems far more appropriate than treating a forgetful dog owner like a criminal, she said.

“My fault, my bad for misplacing and forgetting the license renewal,” she said. “But seriously?”

Written by Julie Mack for Michigan Live