The city of Denison approved a new set of animal control amendments without a contentious proposed new rule that would have required owners of impounded animals to sterilize them upon release. The move came Tuesday night amid concerns by residents and members of the city council.
The amendments, which include new provisions related to animal tethering, dangerous dogs and a “pooper scooper” ordinance, were approved by the council in a unanimous vote Tuesday night following a brief discussion and public comment.
“We are not trying to burden responsible pet owners,” City Manager Jud Rex said. “This is about setting a bar for how animals are to be treated in Denison.”
The move to update the city’s animal control ordinance comes following an animal control study in mid-2018 that found that the city’s animal services is successful due to cooperation and teamwork by multiple organizations. Despite lauding the city for these partnerships, the study found the city has insufficient facilities and staff for its animal control services.
The study recommended, among other improvements, that the city update its ordinance to meet current best practices, use fresh language and state standards.
“As of that study, a need arose to incorporate new terminology,” Denison Code Enforcement Manager Robert Lay said.
One of the proposed sections of the ordinance would require the owners of animals that have been impounded by the city to prove that the animal has been spayed or neutered within 30 days of release. The section included an exception for purebred animals.
City officials in January said it is not uncommon for the city to take in multiple litters from the same mother within a single year. A separate section of the new ordinance will make it an offense for a residence to surrender more than one litter of animals per year.
“Just having the ability to control the animal population responsibly is the primary goal,” Lay said earlier this month.
Tuesday was a busy day for the Denison Animal Welfare Group. Throughout the early afternoon, volunteers helped load up more than 40 animals into the organization’s new transport van in hopes of finding them new homes in Wisconsin. These frequent trips by the organization come amid high inflow and low adoption rates in Texoma, DAWG President Stephanie Phillips said.
Among the dogs that were being transported to other shelters with higher adoption rates was five litters of young puppies. Within the first 30 days of the year, DAWG has transported more than 120 animals to other partner shelters, Phillips said. By comparison, 150 animals were transported out of DAWG to other shelters in October alone.
Earlier this month, Phillips said 2018 proved to be a record-breaking year for DAWG with more than 1,500 animals entering its shelter last year.
Lay said the change ultimately would not affect many residents. Between October and December, animal control took in more than 240 dogs and 100 cats, but only 67 dogs and zero cats were ultimately returned to their families.
The proposed amendment raised some concerns from residents, who felt it was unfair to take drastic approaches on a first offense. David Davis, who owns a purebred chihuahua that does not have papers, said it unfairly penalized animal owners for something that could happen to even responsible owners.
“You have to look at the problem you are trying to solve versus the problem you are going to cause,” he said.
As an example, Davis said an elderly dog might not survive the process, and this would put undue burden on the owner.
These concerns were mirrored by council members Kris Spiegel, Rayce Guess and Michael Baecht. Alternate ideas proposed included an exemption for animals that are impounded, or giving the city manager discretion to offer exemptions in certain circumstances. Other ideas included the an alternative fine in lieu of sterilization for animals, however a fine already would be placed if a dog is taken in, and members of the council argued that this could be a double hit for pet owners.
Ultimately, the section on sterilization was removed in order to give city officials time to propose an alternative option.
Phillips, who was not in attendance Tuesday night, said she was disappointed that the section was removed, noting that it is tame compared to other cities. However, Phillips said that some experts recommend not making spaying and neutering mandatory until it is lower in cost.
“DAWG is working toward making spay/neuter easily accessible because we believe owners want to do the best they can for their pets,” she said, via text message.
Another amendment to the ordinance would allow the city to fine pet owners who do not dispose of their animal’s public waste in what city officials referred to as the “pooper scooper” ordinance.
“There is no great way to put that into words,” Lay joked. “But I think they did a good job with it.”
Tuesday’s amendments also gave clarity to the city’s definitions of a dangerous dog. The new amendment includes a clause defining a dog as dangerous if it has attacked a person or another animal unprovoked, but also allows for an animal to be declared dangerous if it displays “dangerous propensities.”
Rex said the new amendment would allow city animal control officials to declare an animal dangerous based on observed behavior, temperament and other criteria.
“Those animal control officers are trained and know those propensities and behaviors the best,” he said, describing the move as a safety measure by the city.
The amendment also will bar pet owners from tethering a dog in the front yard of a home. For residences within 500 feet of a school, this requirement is widened to include rear yards that do not have a secondary enclosure.