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September 16, 2019

An overreaching animal ordinance is back on the agenda for 9/17/19 in Hattiesburg, MS.  The ordinance has been minimally amended, and additional amendments might be added.   However, as of the time of this message, many provisions of concern remain in Draft #3 of the ordinance, and new problematic provisions have been added.

Hattiesburg residents are urged to contact City Council member and respectfully ask them to VOTE NO on the proposed animal ordinance until ALL concerns are addressed

Although efforts by city staff to amend the ordinance are appreciated, it still contains numerous overreaching and arbitrary provisions. Current concerns include:

 As amended, the ordinance would continue to authorize that ALL animals and ALL premises where animals are maintained are subject to inspection by the county health officer/employees and by an undefined “animal control official” at any reasonable hour for cause by personal observation or sworn complaint.  In an undefined “emergency”, animals and properties where animals are kept would be subject to inspection at any hour.  Sec. 4-9 as amended still allows entry onto private property where animals are kept for the purpose “inspection” without a warrant.  “For cause by personal observation” is not the same as “probable cause”.  Entry onto private property should be authorized by a properly executed warrant signed by neutral judge capable of determining whether probable cause exists. The warrant should specify the places and evidence that may be searched. AKC does not believe that this provision conforms with Mississippi Code 97.41.2 which sets out procedures for the seizure of animals.

It seeks to define an exercise area with an area of standing water or mud as unlawful “unsanitary conditions”.  Compliance with this provision would be virtually impossible for animal owners who give an animal access to a pasture, paddock, fenced backyard, or other outdoor exercise area after a rainfall or that have ponds, creeks, or water features on the property.  Please note that this provision is found under the definition of “unsanitary conditions”.

 It would require arbitrary minimum outdoor enclosure sizes of “two square feet per pound” for dogs.  There is no scientific documentation that two square feet of space per pound equates to “health” for a dog.  Therefore, it unreasonable that it would be a violation to enclose a dog in a standard-sized outdoor kennel run (for example, a 4’x6’ or 6’x10’ enclosure) when such enclosures are utilized in combination with other exercise solutions for the dog. Further, the engineering requirements would be excessive to construct a 200-square foot outdoor kennel run each 100-pound dog that is not “accessible by other animals or persons other than the caretaker” as is required under a separate section.

An animal on its owner’s property, but outside of a “good, secure, and substantial fence” would not be under “restraint”.  Further, an animal outside of a fence that never left its owner’s property could be considered “running at large” and subject to confiscation. As written, the definition of “confinement” is so broad that keeping two pets in the same fenced backyard or squirrel running through the fenced yard could be a violation.  The definition of “confinement” provides that keeping an animal in a fenced yard or tethered is not considered confinement if such area is accessible by other animals or persons other than the caretaker. Under this provision, only a locked, fenced enclosure that is inaccessible to wildlife including birds, an encroaching community cat, guests of the resident, lawncare workers, etc. would qualify as confinement.

Broad and unclear provisions define the act of “leaving” an animal on the owner’s or custodian’s property as abandonment.  These provisions should be corrected and clarified.

 A “tether” would be required to be no less than 10 feet in length.  This would criminalize the use of grooming nooses, veterinary restraints, etc.  AKC was advised that representatives of the city stated that the tethering restrictions would be for dogs kept out of doors.  However, we note that the definition of “tether” does not distinguish between tethers used outdoors and tethers used indoors, nor does it limit tethering restrictions to “dogs”.  Further, there are no exemptions for the use of tethers for animals in working functions; pursuant to the requirements of a park, camping, or recreational area; while engaged in agricultural work; while engaged in lawful hunting; while engaged in, training for, or participating in recognized events; while the animal is being groomed or receiving veterinary care; to facilitate the safe evacuation of the animal; or to provide safe harbor to the animal during a declared emergency.

The definition of “breeder” has been amended to state, “In home hobby breeders may responsibly breed their personal pets, so long as they insure the health and humane treatment of the dam and offspring.”  While this is an improvement over the prior draft, we note that “in home”, “hobby”, and “personal pets” are not defined.

The definition of “dangerous dog” would require that a dog “shall” be declared dangerous if it severely injures a domestic animal while away from the owner’s property.  This provides no defense for an animal that reacts in self-defense to an attack by another animal or that defends its owner from a domestic animal. The defense of provocation in an attack against an animal as provided under Sec. 4-2 for a potentially dangerous dog and under Sec. 2 for a vicious animal is not included among the exceptions listed in the definition of dangerous dog under Sec. 2.  Further, the definition of “dangerous dog” has been expanded to include a dog that “potentially” endangers a human.  This blurs the distinction between the definitions of a “dangerous dog’ and a “potentially dangerous dog”.

Any violation of the fifteen (15) provisions of Section 4-1 is subject to seizure of the animal and/or citations.  Any violation the seven (7) provisions of Sec. 5.2, is subject to impoundment of the animal by the undefined “animal control section”.

Sec.4-1.A.1. states that it is unlawful to “habitually and excessively breed a female pet to such a degree as to endanger the health of the animal.”  Any pregnancy and birth, human or animal, carries risk.  Further, this section is vague as to requirements for compliance.

A broad definition in existing laws considers a dog owner or breeder who “cages” an animal to be an “animal mill”.  “Cage” is undefined.

The definition of “fighting animal/game animal” is so broad that it could include cats and dogs used for vermin control.  As written, a terrier bred to hunt vermin would be, by definition, a fighting/game animal. Not only does this impact responsible dog owners, this provision could restrict shelters and animal rescue organizations from rehoming “pit bulls”, “pit bull” mixes and other breeds and mixes.  A better definition of “fighting/game animal” would be “animals that are trained and/or used for illegal animal fighting.

It could be considered an offense to have poison for insect or vermin control in an area where animals are kept.  “Uncontrolled” infestations are violation.  “Poison” contained in animal areas is also a violation.  There is no exception provided for poisons used, stored or positioned in a manner that is inaccessible to pets or livestock.

A resident found to be in violation of three or more animal care or animal nuisance violations over any 24-month period “will” be cited as a habitual offender and the court “may” limit, restrict, prohibit animal ownership for up to one year, regardless of the severity of the offenses or if said violations caused harm to an animal.  We recommend this section be stricken, or else be amended to define the specific violations that are of sufficient severity to be subject to such citation and to provide that the court “may” rather than “will” issue a citation as a habitual offender.

Any entity, incorporated or otherwise, that shelters and cares for pets would be defined as an “animal shelter” and any entity, incorporated or otherwise, that rescues, assists, and provides care for animals would be defined as a “humane society”. Under these provisions, any persons or entities could declare themselves to be either an “animal shelter” or “humane society”.  Better definitions would require animal shelters and humane societies to be “incorporated within the state”, “non-profit”, and “in compliance with all federal, state, county, and city laws and regulations”.

Seeks to re-enact and expand authorization of entry onto private property by certain city/county employees under broad provisions that are “not limited to” the pursuit of an animal.  Sec. 4-11 strikes language in current law regarding “unfenced property”.

Seeks to re-enact animal ownership limits by limiting all residences to six domestic animals. The AKC opposes laws that limit the number of dogs a responsible owner may keep. We recognize the special obligation of dog owners, not only to their pets but also to their neighbors. We support “curbing” and clean-up ordinances, leash laws, nuisance laws, and other reasonable regulations designed to ensure dogs and their owners remain respected members of their communities. We observe that a single animal can create a disturbance, while any number of animals in the care of a responsible owner can cause no problems. When reasonable leash laws to prevent roaming animals and reasonable nuisance laws are fairly enforced, pet limit laws are unnecessary.

Confiscation fees and other moneys would go to the contracted non-governmental animal shelter. As provided under Sec. 4-4. B., “all moneys collected by any affiliate authorized by the city under the terms of this article shall be used at the city’s designated animal shelter for the care and feeding of impounded animals”.  Under Sec. 5-1. B. the shelter, and not the city’s general or designated fund, shall receive fees and undefined “deposits” for charges that include impoundment fees, rabies vaccination fees, boarding fees, and “any other fees assessed by the city’s contracted animal shelter for reimbursement of actual costs to shelter for medical or other forms of care”.  It is unclear what charges would be for “other forms of care”, and why those costs are not already covered by the listed fees and/or the designated animal shelter’s contracted payments from the city.  Such fees will be set by the non-governmental shelter and approved by city administration. There is no requirement for public input on fees, that the fees be subject to a vote by elected city council members, or that or that fees for “medical” and “other forms of care” charged by the non-governmental shelter to an animal owner shall be itemized and subject to appeal if excessive.

AKC believes that any ordinance that includes provisions that would make accepted animal care practices unlawful; that are unclear, subjective or contradictory; that are subject to interpretation regarding intent; that are not based in sound science; or that could be selectively enforced is not in the best interests of the residents or animals in the community.  Further, when the confiscation of family pets is authorized for every offense, regardless of severity, it is essential that each definition, section, and phrase of the proposed ordinance must be fair, clear, and specific.

 WHAT YOU CAN DO

 Immediately contact Hattiesburg City Council Members to express your concerns and ask that they VOTE NO on the ordinance until ALL concerns are addressed.  Click here for additional contact information.

 Jeffrey George, Ward 1, jrgeorge@hattiesburgms.com

Deborah Delgado, Ward 2, ddelgado@hattiesburgms.com

Carter Carroll, Ward 3, ccarroll@hattiesburgms.com

Mary Dryden, Ward 4, mdryden@hattiesburgms.com

Nicholas Brown, Ward 5, nbrown@hattiesburgms.com

Attend the City Council meeting on 9/17/19 at 5:00 p.m., 200 Forrest St, Hattiesburg, MS 39401.

Please contact city council staff at 601-545-4551 or council@hattiesburgms.com for information and to learn about options, if any, to speak at the meeting.

Click here to view Draft 3 of the proposed ordinance.

Click here to view the agenda for the City Council Meeting on 9/17/19 at 5:00pm. It has been recommended that the animal ordinance be voted into law at this meeting.

For more information, please contact AKC Government Relations at doglaw@akc.org or call 919-816-3720.

 

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us at enewsletter@akc.org
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