News » The QueQue

New animal ordinances at last

No ticker-tape parade, no rioting Lakers fans, no vuvuzela blasts from the city council audience ... sometimes working for the City must be such a drag. For instance, Animal Care Services spent more than six months reviewing the City's animal ordinance, trying to assuage concerns from all corners of San Antonio's animal world (more on that in the Current's June 30 edition) by putting together focus groups, conducting several public meetings, posting opportunity for comment online, holding special advisory board meetings like the one on June 2 when members sat through the insane storm that caused massive power outages, listening to District 5 rep. David Medina's cock concerns at the council's Quality of Life meeting, and whipping through five drafts of the ordinance in Chapter 5 of City Code. And for what? For the ordinance to be unanimously passed in the consent agenda on Thursday. Ho hum. In all honesty, ACS director Gary Hendel probably didn't even need to show up, especially not to sit through three hours' worth of talk about SAWS rates and women and minority owned small business studies. But he did anyway, because District 9 rep. John Clamp pulled the ordinance from consent, then changed his mind right before the lunch break and reinserted it.

What resulted is a 39-page, many-colored document of strike-thrus and definitions and parentheses. Like many revised ordinances, it is a tangle to comb through, so ACS provided a list of revisions to council, quaintly assuming they would read it along with the final draft of the ordinance. In fact, we don't want to be so hasty as to post a full analysis before having the chance to talk to Hendel and other animal advocates this week. Our friends in animal welfare said they were thrilled a proposed measure to assess fees to owners of intact (con huevos) dogs got neutered, while our friends in animal rights said the ordinance was an improvement, but didn't go far enough in preventing animal cruelty and requiring spay and neuter. One thing they did agree with was that the ordinance could have used one last look-through by the focus group. The group's last meeting included only six members of the 17 groups ACS courted.

The major changes:

1) Tethering female dogs in heat prohibited

2) The rules for adjective-misplaced "vicious dog owners" have been axed in favor of rules for adjective-misplaced "dangerous dog owners." Owners of allegedly dangerous dogs may now cross examine witnesses during the hearing to determine the animal's threat. Also, a record of the hearing will be kept, making it easier for owners to challenge the City's determination. If the dog is deemed dangerous, owners now must pay a higher fee of $100 per year. Additionally, ACS added a new classification of an "aggressive dog" with three sublevels, determined at a hearing similar to those for dangerous dogs. While "dangerous" addresses dog-on-human behavior, aggressive largely refers to dog-on-animal behavior. A level 1 aggressive dog appears menacing to people or other domestic animals, owners of these dogs must pay $25 ($75 if unsterilized) and prevent their animal from roaming at large. A level 2 aggressive dog has been found to have injured another animal. Its owner must pay a $50 fee and ($100 if unsterilized), restrain it to a leash or enclosure at all times and the owner may be required to take a responsible pet owner course and get $100,000 public liability insurance policy. A level 3 aggressive dog has killed another animal or repeatedly injures other animals. Its owner may only take out the dog if it's leashed and muzzled. The owner must put signs near the dog's enclosure warning about its aggressive status. In addition to the $100 fee ($150 if unsterilized), the owner may be required to take a responsible pet owner course and get $100,000 public liability insurance policy. ACS can revoke the aggressive status if it's determined that the dog has been provoked or abused. If no further incidents are reported, level 1 and 2 aggressive dogs may be declassified after one year, and level 3 aggressive dogs may be declassified after two years.

3) If your animal gets thrown in the clink, it's gonna cost more to get it out, to the tune of $50 PLUS vaccination, for unregistered animals picked up the first time, $100 for animals picked up the second time, $150 for animals picked up a third time. Compare that to the cost of building a simple fence or just acting like a responsible person and get back to us.

The not-as-major-as-you-think changes:

1) Although we would hope an Animal Care Officer would investigate anyone who tethers their animal outside during freezes, tornado warnings or heat advisories, the new ordinance technically only states this sort of tethering is prohibited only if it "unreasonably limits the dog's movement in the case of extreme weather conditions." (emphasis ours).

2) Puppy sellers are now required to get a permit from the city at $250 a year. However, this only applies to sellers of puppies less than four months old, and selling puppies less than two months old is already prohibited. Also, people who purchase the $50 litter permit (allowing for one litter a year) or the $150 pet shop permit are exempt from getting the seller's permit.

The WTF? changes:

1) Be on the lookout for the ordinance's new fowl language, as reported by Elaine Wolff. She's checking with chicken fanciers the city over, miffed at a paltry poultry max of three feathered friends to be kept in coops at least 50 feet from homes or businesses.

The discussed but not approved changes:

1) We heard from Hendel's own lips at a public meeting on the ordinance that a mandatory spay and neuter requirement was originally slated to be enacted, but that it was killed early on by popular demand.

2) While tethering restrictions are tightened, they stop short of banning the practice outright.

One last thing the City asks of you, pet owners: hustle over to Animal Care Services web site to register your pet if you haven't already. It's free until Sept. 30 and will help immensely if little Fido or Spot gets scooped up by the dog/cat catcher.

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