Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Animal control recommendations

As I promised, I will make recommendations for animal control and related ordinances but first we need a quick review of some facts and problems.

We have a large number of stray and abandoned animals. The number euthanized each year is heartbreaking. We don't want to make this problem worse.

We probably have only 20% to 30% of the pets in town licensed and vaccinated. This leads to other problems, especially with health and public safety. What are we actually using this licensing information for? We really need to examine our whole approach to licensing.

This ongoing interest in ordinance changes was triggered by cases of irresponsible people running puppy mills in residential areas. The problem surfaced because of complaints from neighbors, and is still an issue because of the poor initial response. Part of the problem may be from poor ordinances and regulations but much of it is due to inadequate resources used ineffectively and not in a timely manner.

The pictures from the puppy mill raids show cases of animal cruelty. They were caught because they were in residential areas and neighbors were fed up dealing with it. I am concerned that this problem would not have been detected or dealt with if the puppy mill had not been in a residential district.

Animal control is limited in personnel and resources. We don't need to divert resources with unnecessary paperwork.

We do need increased community involvement on all animal related issues. Anything we do should enlist responsible pet owners, animal rescuers, and hobby breeders. We must not alienate them.

Public health and safety is the first concern. Health and safety of the animals is next in line.

We already have an ordinance covering Animal Kennels, which covers keeping, breeding, boarding, or training animals for commercial gain. These are limited to non-residential areas. The conditional use matrix only lists overnight boarding, which may cause confusion on what is meant. This section of the zoning ordinance does not allow a puppy mill in a residential area.

There are no space requirements for animals in the current code of ordinances. The animal control section on pens, yards, and enclosures does cover sanitation. The quality or size of the enclosure is not addressed.

So what are my recommendations? Lets start with breeders and pet sales.

Pet sales are already somewhat restricted by the zoning ordinance. Those for commercial gain are restricted to some commercial and manufacturing districts. The animal control ordinance needs to state that offering for sale or trade of pets is not allowed in a residential area with 3 exceptions: The hobby breeder, the animal rescuer, and the accidental breeder.

The hobby breeder and the animal rescuer must have permits issued by animal services after an inspection is done of the facility. Qualification and inspection guidelines will be developed by the ASB and approved by Council.

An accidental breeder would be allowed to sell one litter over the life of the pet, as long as proof that the pet was neutered is presented to Animal Services with 60 days. The accidental breeder would also have the option of qualifying as either a hobby breeder or rescuer. If none of those 3 happen, then they are subject to a fine.

Now on to enclosures. The ordinances already cover sanitation, so we need to add that the enclosures need to be securely built. They need to be built so they do not injure the animal. They need to be built so they are easily cleaned, and they need to be sized appropriately for the animal. They must provide shelter from the weather and access to water. Rather than require measurements and calculations like the APHIS standards for commercial breeders do, we can go with small, medium, and large sizes. For animals that share their living space with their owner (house pets) only 25% of the living space should be allowed for the animal space calculations. Enclosure and space regulations will limit the number of animals on a property based on what that property can realistically handle.

There need to be guidelines on tethering. A minimum tether length (8' for a small dog, 10' for a medium dog, 12' for a large dog?) is needed. The dog should not be tethered where he can get tangled. Shade, shelter, and water must be available for the tethered dog. Any method of tethering likely to cause pain or injury to an animal should not be allowed. Examples include choke, pinch, or prong collars.

We need to redo our licensing fee schedule. At the minimum we need to put the pot bellied pig on the list. I recommend that we also set a higher fee for non-sterile animals. Not a punitive fee, but a difference that is enough that a pet owner gets a long term break for altering their pet. Significant work for animal services is a result of the offspring of unaltered pets, so paying more for that privilege seems appropriate. We can also use the license fee to promote positive goals for animal control. For example: Get your pet neutered, get that years license free. Get your pet vaccinated, discount on the license fee. Adopt a pet from the shelter, get a discount on a lifetime license. Eliminate the lifetime license for most unaltered pets (exceptions for show dogs and working dogs.) I would also make the License term the same length as the vaccination term (there are 3 year vaccinations, so have the license coincide with the vaccination.)

I recommend we make the animal license database available to first responders. When the fire trucks roll up, it would be good if they knew how many pets were in the building, if there were any special assistance animals inside, etc.. This would be valuable to first responders and the general public.

Last recommendation is that the city start a "Know your seller" information and education campaign. We need to let the people know the problems that puppy mills and irresponsible owners cause.

This is not quite ready for an ordinance yet, but it is where we need to start. We don't need to do all of it right now, but we need to settle the breeder and enclosure issues soon.

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