Friday, August 15, 2008

Government Theater

If you pay much attention to government in action, you get to see a lot of what is called Theater. These are actions and laws done mostly for show and to make people feel a problem is being handled. Close inspection shows they are ineffective, and often make the problem they were supposed to solve worse. Security theater is probably the most common example..

The City Council will have a bit of theater on the agenda on 19th. There is a proposed ordinance to limit the number of dogs one can have on a residential property. They are proposing a limit of 6 dogs, with exemptions for "recognized rescuers" (who can have up to 9 altered dogs), and one litter for 12 weeks. This is classic Government theater. This is not the first time this has been before council. We have followed this since 2006. This started because there are inconsiderate people that don't know how to care for dogs and think that a small residential yard is the proper place to have a puppy mill.

These people are already violating noise and public nuisance ordinances. There are probably health code violations. There may be zoning violations (incompatible business), etc..

When this was brought up the first time, we did some research and found very little support for dog number limits. The AVMA, in its model ordinance, does recommend special permits for breeders and similar businesses, but recommends no hard limits for private ownership. The key part of the ordinance is under owner responsibility and says "No dog or cat shall be allowed to cause a nuisance. The owner of every dog or cat shall be held responsible for every behavior of such dog or cat under the provisions of this ordinance." There are similar recommendations from the AKC, SFSPCA, and most other animal welfare groups. If you look at the discussions on and nokillnow, there are cases where fixed limits have been found to be un-constitutional limits on property and due process. The city does have a legitimate right to regulate nuisances, but other cases have shown that a certain number of dogs does not necessarily create a nuisance.

Now we come to the heart of the matter, the problem this theater is supposed to address. There are people that are being denied the peaceful enjoyment of their homes because some people refuse to properly care for their animals. In some cases, it is an inconsiderate breeder just trying to make some easy money. In other cases, it is one dog that is allowed to destroy property, strew trash and garbage, and generally create havoc because the owner is lazy and irresponsible. The people that are being irresponsible and creating nuisances today will not suddenly comply with a new law. We are not effectively enforcing what's on the books today so why will that change with an additional law we still don't have the manpower to enforce. In the end, it is all for show. It's just a case of Government Theater.

1 comment:

  1. I want to emphasize the "unconstitutional" part JWT mentions. Best the two of us find, we have three cases on point in three different states where courts have found this approach to animal control violates, among other things, property rights.

    In the mid-90s, Angelo got all worked up over this fellow who was going to open an "all-nude" BYOB strip club. That meeting moved to City Auditorium to accomodate the overflow crowd of the indignant.

    The "Sexually-oriented business" ordinance arising out of this public outcry had one huge defect: similar had been all the way to US Supremes, who ruled against it. City Atty told them so. I avoided the morality aspects in my comments, but added that if they did this, someone was going to sue us and win.

    Short of it, the business in question opened at another location just south of town limits, and sure as God made little green apples, he sued. By the time it went through court, the interest had died down, but in essence Angelo taxpayers forked over about $40k to a wannabe porn king who eventually went broke for lack of interest.

    True, animal limits have yet to hit that appealate level, one might argue that SCOTUS would reverse the lower courts, but given our budget problems, do we need to commit to an appeal which to reach SCOTUS might easily run $2 million?

    Perhaps we could take a deep breath and follow the appealate court logic so far expressed, namely, if one wants to address business zoning, noise, sanitation, even public safety from loose dogs, write ordinances directly addressing those problems. Then, just for fun, direct city employees to ENFORCE them. What a concept.