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Houston City Council Expected to Consider Animal Ordinance Changes Next Week

(Wednesday, March 19, 2014)
The City Council of Houston, Texas, is expected to consider extensive changes to the City’s animal ordinances at its next meeting on March 25-26, 2014. The American Kennel Club appreciates the willingness of City officials to incorporate the many positive changes suggested by Houston-area clubs and fanciers; however we remain concerned about the proposed spay/neuter requirements for unsterilized animals impounded by BARC, the city’s animal shelter.

Specifically, the AKC believes that the mandate that all unsterilized animals impounded by BARC be spayed/neutered prior to release back to the owner (unless the dog or cat has a current unaltered pet license issued by the city and the animal has never been previously impounded by BARC, or meets other age or health conditions) is unreasonable. In the case of a licensed intact dog, two impoundments during a dog’s lifetime does not automatically indicate a habitually negligent owner or a dog that is a problem for their community. For example, a dog may get out once as a puppy and then years later be accidentally released by a child, neighbor, or utilities worker that leaves a fence unsecured. We believe such instances are not sufficient to prove an animal a threat to the public’s health or safety, or habitually at-large, and does not necessitate permanent sterilization of the animal. We urge the city to consider other solutions that address the issue of all owners who habitually allow their dogs to become a problem, and not focus on those who own intact dogs and rarely experience accidental release of their animal.

Another issue of great concern to local dog owners is that all ownership rights in an impounded dog will be automatically and completely divested after a short impoundment period, with BARC assuming sole ownership of the dog and empowered to do with the dog was they wish. Moreover, owners attempting to redeem their animals after these time periods run will have no preferred right to possession, or any specific procedural rights to help them regain possession. Ownership in an animal should not divest simply because a short period of time has passed. The proposal should include protections for owners attempting to redeem a lost dog.

SYNOPSIS: As currently worded, some of the other proposed changes to Houston’s animal ordinance include:

  • Defining “hobby/conformation breeder” as a person who: (1) breeds personally-owned dogs or cats for the purpose of improving a breed, showing in a competitive venue, use in a sporting activity or working purposes, or other personal reasons; (2) is a member in good standing with an organized, regional, or local club established for the purposes listed above in item (1), as evidenced by a membership card or other proof of membership; and (3) sells, trades, barters, distributes, or otherwise exchanges consideration for dogs or cats to other hobby/conformation breeders or conducts private sales to individuals. As defined, the term shall not include sales, trades, barter, distribution or the exchange of consideration to wholesalers or brokers.
  • Requiring “commercial”, “hobby/conformation”, and “non-commercial breeders” to obtain a valid breeding permit.
  • New definitions of “aggressive dog” and “public nuisance dog”; and updated care and maintenance requirements for dangerous, aggressive, and public nuisance dogs.
HISTORY: The original draft proposal, which was first circulated for public comment in fall 2013, considered all breeding of dogs to be commercial and would have required all breeders to acquire commercial breeding permits. However, because most land use in Houston is controlled by covenants that almost uniformly prohibit commercial activity on controlled lands, hobby breeding in Houston could have been effectively ended if the original draft had been adopted. Furthermore, all non-commercial breeding of animals would have been outlawed.

Officials with BARC, the administrative and regulatory division responsible for the city’s animal shelter, animal adoptions, and enforcement of animal regulations that was chiefly responsible for the proposal, listened to the concerns of Houston-area kennel clubs and other fanciers and enthusiasts, who provided BARC with extensive explanations as to why the original proposal would be detrimental to Houston’s responsible dog breeders and owners. Most concerns were subsequently addressed. The proposal currently under consideration by the council may be viewed in its entirety here.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Houston residents are encouraged to contact Mayor Parker and the members of the City Council and express their thoughts on the changes. Click here to find out who your City Council representative is.

Mayor Anisse D. Parker
Phone: 713.837.0311
E-MAIL: mayor@houstontx.gov

Councilwoman Brenda Stardig (District A)
Phone: 832.393.3010
E-MAIL: districta@houstontx.gov

Councilman Jerry Davis (District B), Vice Mayor Pro-Tem
Phone: 832.393.3009
E-MAIL: districtb@houstontx.gov

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen (District C)
Phone: 832.393.3004
E-MAIL: districtc@houstontx.gov

Councilman Dwight Boykins (District D)
Phone: 832.393.3001
E-MAIL: districtd@houstontx.gov

Councilman Dave Martin (District E)
Phone: 832.393.3008
E-MAIL: districte@houstontx.gov

Councilman Richard Nguyen (District F)
Phone: 832.393.3002
E-MAIL: districtf@houstontx.gov

Councilman Oliver Pennington (District G)
Phone: 832.393.3007
E-MAIL: districtg@houstontx.gov

Councilman Ed Gonzalez (District H), Mayor Pro-Tem
Phone: 832.393.3003
E-MAIL: districth@houstontx.gov

Councilman Robert Gallegos (District I)
Phone: 832.393.3011
E-MAIL: districti@houstontx.gov

Councilman Mike Laster (District J)
Phone: 832.393.3015
E-MAIL: districtj@houstontx.gov

Councilman Larry Green (District K)
Phone: 832.393.3016
E-MAIL: districtk@houstontx.gov

Councilman Stephen C. Costello (At Large 1)
Phone: 832.393.3014
E-MAIL: atlarge1@houstontx.gov

Councilman David W. Robinson (At Large 2)
Phone: 832.393.3013
E-MAIL: atlarge2@houstontx.gov

Councilman Michael Kubosh (At Large 3)
Phone: 832.393.3005
WEB PAGE • E-MAIL: atlarge3@houstontx.gov

Councilman C.O. Brad Bradford (At Large 4)
Phone: 832.393.3012
E-MAIL: atlarge4@houstontx.gov

Councilman Jack Christie (At Large 5)
Phone: 832.393.3017
E-MAIL: atlarge5@houstontx.gov

For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at (919) 816-3720, or email doglaw@akc.org.