The Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) in Washington State has been using data collected from county residents’ supermarket club cards to track down pet owners who have not purchased a license for their dogs or cats.
Then the company sent out letters to 74,845 people who had purchased pet supplies, but who were not on the county’s database, warning them that “failure to license could result in fines of up to $250 per [unaltered] pet.”
The fine for not licensing a spayed or neutered pet is $125, according to RASKC.
The program has collected $117,786 in pet licensing fees so far, the agency says, due in part because 23 percent of the county’s 109,000 pet owners had not bothered to license their animals.
The practice came to light after county resident Barbara Twadell, whose dog has been dead for several years, received a warning letter from RASKC. She called the county and was told that she was on the list of scofflaws because her grocery store club card tracked a toy she bought for a friend’s pet.
“We used direct–mail lists,” RASKC manager Gene Mueller said. “The same way a pet store or veterinarian would.”
“This is kind of standard marketing practice or procedure that people use,” King County communications manager Cameron Satterfield told KOMO News. “This is not King County going and grabbing this data, you know, big brother watching what you buy at the grocery store.”
But a Seattle Times editorial pointed out the potential dangers of having government officials using customer data to keep track of what people buy.
“What’s next? A letter from the health department noting purchases of ice cream and potato chips?”