The proposed Animal Control Ordinance was tabled by the county commission during the meeting on Tuesday, 25 June. The ordinance was not ready to be adopted.

The county needs a simple, clearly understood ordinance. The “law” is not the place to force radical social agendas, to impose trivial measures, or to provide a manual on dog/cat handling and maintenance. Don’t expect any “law” to solve all of the animal-control problems.

Animal Control is a broad-ranging community problem, and the solution goes beyond simply adopting a revised local ordinance and declaring victory. Changing a few labels, incorporating new unenforceable legalities and adopting extreme licensing fees will not solve any problems.

As a community, we need to decide what issues are most critical, and we must decide what aspects of those issues should be handled through the law. Certainly, some aspects of public health, public safety, nuisance situations, the seizure and disposition of animals running at large and animal abuse should be a primary focus of the law. Here are my views on the most significant problems with the proposed ordinance.

Issues with Proposed Animal Control Ordinance

Working dogs and training: The proposed ordinance is ambiguous about the legality of using hunting or working dogs when off the premises occupied by the owner. Doing so is a violation of Section 3.1.01, but is allowed by Section 3.6.02. Off-lead training for obedience or other work would also be illegal. Revising the definition of “running at large” (Section 1.2.29), opened the door to the ambiguity. State Statute 77-1-9 uses “running at large” in a sensible manner.

Leashes: With major animal control issues facing the county, the proposed ordinance lays out arbitrary specifications about the length of leashes and about the use of retractable leashes (Sections 3.6.03 and 3.6.04) – this ordinance is for the unincorporated areas of the County — an agricultural area, not for New York City. There are more important problems facing the county’s limited animal control resources than measuring the length of leashes and issuing citations to violators.

Tethering: Section 3.6.01 says that an animal can be confined by chain to ensure that it cannot leave the owner’s property. Then, Section 3.6.05 says that tethering for more than 24-hours is illegal. This is another inconsistency in the ordinance (confine, but don’t confine). Would Animal Control be expected to stake out locations where dogs are tethered to make sure they are removed from the tether at least once a day? How long would an animal have to be removed from the tether to satisfy the law? Is the routine confinement of a dog on a chain to be considered animal abuse or is it simply not a desirable practice? Since the ordinance does not define tethering as abuse, is it something that even needs to be controlled by the law? I can appreciate the desire to have dogs treated well. Unlike some animal rights activists, I’d rather see a dog tethered for more than 24 hours (with adequate food, water, shade and shelter) than to have it end up at the pound to be killed. And I would also prefer to have the dog tethered rather than to have it running at large.

Quarantine for a scratch: Sections 4.2.01 and 4.2.02 require that a dog that has scratched someone be reported and surrendered to animal control or to the sheriff for quarantine. The dog would be placed under strict quarantine for 10 days ($120 fee, Section 9.0.04) or, if the owner would not agree to the quarantine, then the dog would be killed (4.2.02.b) so its head could be shipped to a lab for testing of the brain tissue (note: Section 4.2.03 makes provisions for a home quarantine, but that can be denied for any reason). All of this for only a scratch. So, if the kids are playing with the family dog and someone gets scratched — goodbye, dog. This doesn’t pass the common-sense check.

Dangerous Dogs: Sections 1.2.14, .27, and .33 define “dangerous dog,” “public nuisance animal” and “vicious animal.” I found it interesting that Section 5.6.01 says that no person shall keep or harbor a vicious animal (bites or attacks without provocation) and that Section 5.1.0 says that it shall be unlawful for any person to own, have, maintain, keep, or harbor any public nuisance animal (chases cars). Then, Section 5.5.00 has a nearly 1500-word description of what can be done to keep a “dangerous dog.” Now, a “dangerous dog” can be a dog that has attacked and killed a person. What logic supports the idea of keeping a dog that has killed someone, yet makes no provisions for keeping a dog that chases cars or barks? State Statue 77-1-2 requires that a dog that has only injured livestock be killed. But, if a person has been killed, the county would have provisions so the owner could still keep the dog.

(Editor’s note: The second part of Tomé resident Ron Gustafson’s column on the ordinance will be in Wednesday’s edition.)

Owner/Guardian. Section 1.2.23 introduces a new term, “Owner/Guardian.” So, within the County we would be considered “guardians” of our cats and dogs. This is a nice, politically correct notion, but State Statue 77-1-1 clearly states that cats and dogs are personal property and that remedies for recovery, damages, or injuries to personal property extend to them. I do not consider myself to be a “guardian” of my car or lawnmower (personal property). If someone uses my car or lawnmower, they are not “guardians” of my personal property. There has been some discussion of changing “guardian” to “custodian.” But, State Statue 77-1-7 uses “custodian” to mean an owner or operator of a veterinary clinic, a grooming parlor, or other animal care facility, and addresses situations in which an animal has been abandoned. For purposes of the County’s Animal Control ordinance, let’s drop the political agendas and just use the term “owner” (in the sense of owning personal property) and remain consistent with State Statute.

Reclaiming Animals.

Time Limits and Notification. Section 3.2.02 of the proposed ordinance still only allows 3 days to reclaim an animal from the pound. This should be increased and we should consider incorporating a public notice before an animal is killed. A “no-kill” policy should also be investigated. It has been used successfully in other communities.

Fees. Based on Appendix A, the fees to reclaim an animal from the pound could easily exceed $150, not considering penalties and fines.

Note: About 95% of the animals that are impounded are killed (5866 animals killed in 2000 and 339 reclaimed or adopted). To what extent does a high fee/penalty/fine structure and a short time to reclaim animals, affect getting animals back to their owners or to someone who cares?

Breeding Restrictions. I see three major categories of animal breeding: 1) Show and Performance, 2) Commercial, and 3) Backyard and Unplanned (to include strays and animals running at large).

Show and performance breeders are, in general, very careful in selling or placing their “pet” quality animals. Contracts may require neutering of the animal before “papers” are provided and may also give substantial refunds if an animal is returned. This ensures no indiscriminate breeding and also ensures that unwanted animals are returned to the seller rather than going to the pound. No ordinance will ever achieve the effectiveness of these self-imposed measures.

Commercial breeders are business enterprises and should undergo inspections and certifications in accordance with accepted standards and best industry practices. Typically, animals from commercial operations are not sold to show and performance breeders, but are sold as pets to the general public. Those animals could then become part of the “backyard and unplanned” breeding category. This aspect of commercial breeding operations is not addressed in the ordinance. Furthermore, it may not be appropriate to include commercial operations in a general animal control ordinance.

Backyard and unplanned breeding (including strays and animals running at large) will never be controlled through any ordinance. It will never be practical to gain compliance through more laws, especially considering the limited resources for enforcement. Getting results within the general public will be a matter of developing public awareness and doing things that “make sense,” with a focus on helping rather than intimidating the public.

Fees Related to Breeding Restrictions (Appendix “A”).

The ordinance attempts to restrict breeding of animals through licensing fees: $5 for neutered animals and $125 for intact animals (a $25 Licensing fee, Section 9.0.08, and a $100 Intact Animal Permit fee, Section 9.0.12). The additional $120 for an intact animal appears to be an attempt to force the general public to neuter their animals. These measures will likely be ineffective – this is just more of the same that has been ineffective in the current ordinance. The key is developing public awareness and seeking voluntary action that reduces the number of animals running at large.

As noted above, intact animals can be licensed. However, if such an animal were intentionally bred, that would violate the law and the animal would have to be neutered (Section 9.0.12). In this case, the law also makes provisions for a $25 “litter fee” (Section 9.0.13). So, the fees for an intact animal could eventually total $150 or more, in addition to the expense and stress of the required neutering. What’s the likelihood of compliance?

A key point to also consider is the difference between an intentional breeding of an intact animal (as discussed above) versus an intentional breeding under a “hobby kennel” permit. If the same animals were involved in either situation, the results would be same, but with totally different legal and financial consequences. Anyone can obtain a “hobby kennel” permit for a fee of only $25 (Section 9.0.11). With a hobby kennel permit there is no restriction on the number of animals or on breeding. Furthermore, there is no additional “litter fee” or a “licensing fee” for each animal; and there is no required neutering of animals that are bred. If animals are bred under a “hobby kennel” permit, the law is not broken. Again, this is $25 for all animals as compared to $125 for a single animal. The logic of this fee structure is not apparent.

It seems that just treating every household as a “hobby kennel” and charging a $25 fee, regardless of the number of animals or their ability to breed, could simplify the entire fee structure. That’s what, in effect, will happen if the proposed fees are implemented. Obviously, the entire approach to the fee structure needs to be reconsidered. Also, are restrictions to intentional breeding even required or even useful in solving the problem of animals running at large, or in addressing the large number of animals killed at the pound each year? I don’t think so. The solution lies elsewhere.

In summary, breeding restrictions in the Animal Control Ordinance are an ineffective attempt to limit the population of animals running at large and to reduce the number of unclaimed animals at the pound. The show and performance breeders manage this issue through their own initiatives. Commercial breeders will not be affected in terms of the number of animals bred or sold. Only a small number of the backyard and unplanned breedings are likely to comply with any ordinance. Even with full compliance, breeding issues are not the core problem leading to the large number of animals running at large and resulting in the large number of animals impounded and then killed at the pound each year (5586 animals killed in 2000).

Fees Related to Animal Abuse. The only difference between paying the County $125 to keep an intact animal and paying $25 for a “hobby kennel” is that the owner’s premises must be inspected for a “hobby kennel.” In fact, the inspection seems more appropriate for a commercial operation. This inspection focuses on animal abuse issues (kennel conditions) and is unrelated to breeding. So, is breeding an issue or not? Apparently it isn’t. In this respect, the ordinance has confounded breeding restrictions and animal abuse. But now consider the likelihood of abuse at “show or performance” locations, or in situations with a few animals in the “backyard.” I expect it is low. So, are the inspections of most premises likely to uncover abuse? Probably not. How do we best use our limited Animal Control resources to address abuse? With the large number of animals killed at the pound each year, what are the important abuse issues?

Other Issues. Arming of Animal Control personnel, entry onto private property, killing animals in the open, fee changes with no oversight, timelines for court appearances, and inspection procedures are issues that others have raised. These concerns about the proposed ordinance certainly need to be considered.

Finally, public involvement is absolutely essential in developing a useful ordinance. Representatives of key animal groups were not part of the process. Actions to actively solicit public participation as the ordinance evolved were not taken. Meetings of the committee following the first public hearing were held at times that would preclude participation by most working folks. I tried to obtain a copy of the ordinance prior to publication, but was turned down. Hopefully, future actions on the ordinance will address the issue of public participation.

Ron Gustafson

Tome, NM

864-3513

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Ron Gustafson