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Shelter ordinance meets opposition

Domesticated animal owners would be required to provide defined housing

January 09, 2013
An ordinance that the Crawford County Board of Commissioners is considering that would require shelter for domesticated animals was met with some opposition at the board's regular meeting Dec. 31 at the judicial complex in English.

Following the board's instruction at its November meeting, county attorney John E. Colin presented a draft of the ordinance. In it, "proper shelter" is defined as having:

•Four sides, including one with an opening large enough for an animal to enter;

•A floor that is elevated off the ground and is secured and a roof that does not leak or allow accumulation of moisture;

•Enough room for the animal to stand completely erect without touching the top while completely allowing the animal to turn around and stretch out when lying down; and

•Means of shade from the heat and straw bedding or other means of protection from the cold.

The ordinance also would require each animal to have a separate food and water bowl, and violation of any part of the ordinance could result in a $100 fine.

"I think our intent is all the same," District 3 Commissioner Jim Schultz said. "We want to do something to assure that these animals are being taken care of. I think we also want to be careful that we don't make something too cumbersome."

He gave the requirement for separate food dishes as an example, saying there are people who take in strays to help them and this may be an unfair burden.

"I didn't put that in there," said Tanya Tuell, founder of River Valley Humane Society and coordinator of the Spay and Neuter Assistance Program in Harrison County and who has helped initiate a SNAP effort in Crawford County. "That didn't come from me, but I think it probably arose to the situation we dealt with most recently where there was seven dogs drinking out of the one little water pan."

Tuell was referring to a situation in the county where nine dogs were in a small wired pen that didn't include a gate. The ground inside was a "mud pit," she told the commissioners at their last meeting, adding there were only two doghouses and several broken pieces of others for the nine animals.

Sheriff Tim Wilkerson said leaving the requirement in the ordinance might be good, but he added that officers would use discretion in issuing citations.

District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius suggested that the commissioners might want to change the ordinance to define domesticated animals as cats and dogs.

However, Cara Beth Jones, of Marengo and representing the group Protect the Harvest, which represents livestock and small pet owners as well as hunters and fishermen, said she is concerned the ordinance may do more harm than good.

"We are really under assault by some of these organizations that want to come in with these restricting laws and ordinances," she said. "It really takes a toll on these livestock owners and small pet owners."

Jones noted that the "language in these ordinances has to be worded very carefully."

"We believe that these restrictive ordinances can get very expensive due to unforeseen costs, and I am very concerned that they may represent a slippery slope for the farmers who feed our families," she said.

Jones said she is worried that ordinances like the one passed in Harrison County requiring dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered could have unintended consequences.

"Faced with higher pet care costs and more regulations, animal owners turn over their pets and get new pets that they can keep off the record and hide from authorities," she said.

These new pets, Jones added, may never receive proper veterinary care, and the county could face an increase in rabies and animal-borne diseases, such as was the case in Fort Worth, Texas, following the adoption of a similar spay/neuter ordinance.

Crawford County hasn't proposed a spay/neuter ordinance, but Jones, who presented the commissioners with documentation from several animal-related organizations opposing mandatory spaying and neutering, is concerned that could be the next step.

Jones also questioned the situation with the nine dogs referred to earlier. She wondered if it was a misunderstanding, noting that a white dog in a photo in the newspaper appeared clean despite the dogs supposedly having lived in the small muddy pen for years.

"That is some of the blackest mud I've ever seen for Crawford County, and this dog's mouth and muzzle is pure white. This dog is in what really looks like good health," she said.

Jones suggested the commissioners talk to the dog owners to learn more about the situation.

"We just need a better understanding of the story," she said, adding that nobody should live in fear of getting in trouble for something they shouldn't.

Tuell said she was called for help and the owner willingly gave up seven of the dogs.

"We protected his identity because he did help," she said. "I could have easily turned it over to the sheriff. That is a case that could have easily gone to the sheriff's department and prosecuting attorney, and I didn't do it because I didn't want to cause the guy a bunch of trouble."

Wilkerson said his department gets numerous calls about animals living in poor conditions. He and his officers, he said, try to work with the owners to correct the situation.

"We go out and see if they need help," he said. "We give warnings and advise them a little bit. You know, there's help out there."

The commissioners, who took no action on the proposed ordinance, will next meet Thursday, Jan. 31, at 6:30 p.m. at the judicial complex. A closed executive session will be held at 5.

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