DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif -

David Stephens considers his two dogs, Chi Chi and Duke, family.

Both were strays.  He rescued Chi Chi four and half years ago and Duke about a year and a half ago.

In both cases he immediately had them fixed, and has since kept up on their rabies vaccinations.  That's why he was shocked to see in late April an $819 citation left at the door of the home he rents, citing a variety of violations, including violating state law by not having his dogs licensed.

"I figured if it was the law and everyone knew about it, I would have been told you should have them licensed too.   I was never told," said Stephens.

Stephens believes it's Riverside County Animal Services' responsibility to educate dog owners about the state's licensing requirements -- though they've been on the books for 50 years.

But more than that, he thinks dog owners in Desert Hot Springs should have been notified that license inspectors would be cracking down by canvasing neighborhoods looking for dogs at homes that don't show up on the data base as housing licensed animals.

"It seems to me just all of a sudden somebody thinks we need to make some money off of it - and we're gonna attack people, and put notices on their doors and force them into action," said Stephens.
       
Animal Services defends the canvasing tactics that have been in effect for four months under its new contract with the city.

In Stephens' case, the inspectors heard his two dogs barking from inside the home.

"It's not very pleasant, folks don't really like us for it, but it is all about trying to get folks to become compliant, and ultimately have a better impact on the community and hopefully have an impact of less animals coming to the shelter," said Riverside County Animal Services spokesman John Welsh.

Since Stephens immediately paid to have his dogs licensed, updated on vaccinations and microchipped the citation charges were waived except for a $50 late fee.

Nonetheless, he has no confidence in a county agency that issued him a confusing notice stating microchipping was mandatory in Indio, with no mention of Desert Hot Springs.

"I was a little perturbed.  If you're going to post something on someone's door with an $800 fine attached to it, it needs to be correct before it hits the home," said Stephens.

We asked Welsh about the discrepancy on the door hanger left behind at Stephen's home by a license inspector.

"I don't know why that says Indio when he lives in Desert Hot Springs. It could be the license inspector grabbed the wrong booklet, I'll look into that for you," said Welsh.

Welsh made good on his word.  He later told us the door hangers had a printing error and that they will be sent back to the printer to be corrected.

As for why Animal Services didn't do more to publicize the neighborhood canvasing program in Desert Hot Springs, Welsh said the agency does not have a marketing budget and relies on the media to get the word out to the public.