Pet ordinance revisions to be considered

Vaccinations, mandatory spay, neuter part of proposal

FORT SMITH — Residents would be required to get their dogs and cats spayed or neutered as one part of a proposed revision of the city’s animal ordinance that city directors will consider at their meeting Tuesday.

Directors heard the proposed amendments and gave feedback during a study session last week.

A memo to City Administrator Carl Geffken from Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman summarized the revisions, which includes removing references to the Animal Services Advisory Board because the board has opted to review animal-related items on its own. It also removes references to annual pet licensing.

Dingman explained at a directors meeting in November the pet license was adopted a few years ago but not implemented or enforced, which is why it’s removed in the proposal.

The proposal states a stray animal given to a shelter will not be released from the shelter or impoundment facility until it is microchipped and spayed or neutered. It also specifies animals must be vaccinated before they will be released, and the owner must show proof of vaccination in order to claim the animal. If the owner cannot provide proof, the facility will vaccinate the animal before release, and the owner will pay for it and the spay or neuter.

The city is working on a voucher system to help pay for animals to be spayed and neutered on a first-come, first-served basis. How many vouchers will be available is uncertain at this time.

At-large Director Christina Catsavis said she thinks microchipping might be a financial burden to some people, and a collar with an identifying tag should be sufficient.

The proposal also removes the prohibition of “vicious” behaving animals within the city and instead sets certain parameters for these animals, such as requiring those wishing to maintain an aggressive animal in the city to pay an annual special license fee of $500 per year, plus requiring the animal to be spayed or neutered.

The proposal also increases the breeder’s license fee for dogs and cats from $500 to $1,000 per year per animal in addition to a business license. That’s because bred puppies can often sell for $2,500 or more, meaning a breeder can make over $10,000 for a litter, Geffken said.

The proposal prohibits feeding or harboring wildlife and stray animals, or leaving pet food out unattended. Catsavis said Fort Smith is full of kind people with good hearts wanting to feed stray animals, and she doesn’t feel good about banning that.

Geffken said leaving food out can attract other animals carrying diseases harmful to pets and children.

“I like the fact that there are places that raccoons and foxes and deer can live and not be affected by human activity, but the feeding thing, leaving food unattended, is kind of a dangerous thing,” Ward 3 Director Lavon Morton said. “And I think this is kind of a compromise with what [Ding-man’s] done here. But I share your concern. I want people to be able to feed stray dogs and stray cats and domestic type animals without being concerned of getting fined.”

The proposal reduces the number of adult dogs a person can maintain in a home without being considered a kennel from seven to four, as recommended by the Police Department. Kennels may be operated where properly zoned with a license of $150 per year in addition to a business license. There is an exception for the temporary housing of foster animals on behalf of a shelter or for purposes of re-homing them.

Morton asked how the city will enforce that if a residence already has seven dogs. Ding-man said he doesn’t know, but the city needed to draw a limit somewhere.

“And I agree,” Morton said. “It’s just I don’t want to tell people ‘pick three dogs you have to get rid of,’ so I think we need to think about that. Seven is too many.”

Geffken said there is a potential to grandfather those owners in.

At-large Director Neal Martin questioned how most of the proposal will be enforced.

“Enforceability is going to be an issue, and our capacity to do enforcement is still going to be an issue for a time, but it will not be better if we do not do something like this,” Dingman said.

Martin said he doesn’t want to fine people until they’re facing jail time or do irreparable harm to people who can’t afford several fines. The community definitely needs an animal ordinance, he said.

Geffken said the city is aware of that, and the ordinance can be amended if needed.

At-large Director Kevin Settle asked the ordinance include a yearly review by directors.

Ward 2 Director Andre Good said he’s been on the board since 2008, and the directors have been talking about pets since that time. He said the city has been lenient by not having the proper ordinances in place, and while the directors won’t like everything being proposed, they’re good policies to make a change.

The city is full of people who care about animals, but there’s also a “large segment” of the community that are irresponsible pet owners, Good said.

Monica Brich may be reached by email at [email protected] .