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Tougher pet law is proposed for Washingotn County

January 09, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

Higher dog license fees, increased fines, shorter confinements for strays and a new board to hear complaints are elements of a proposed animal control law for Washington County.

The Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals now keeps strays for at least five days before allowing them to be adopted or, if there is no room at the shelter, euthanizing them, said Executive Director Shelly Moore.

Under the proposal, that time period would be shortened to three days.

Moore said research has shown that most animals are reclaimed by their owners within 48 hours, so the shortened time period shouldn't affect lost pets found by the SPCA.

The shorter time shouldn't mean more animals will be euthanized since the shelter usually has room to hold them, Moore said. The shelter is busiest in the summer when litters arrive.

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The proposal also calls for raising fees and fines since they haven't gone up since at least 1990, Moore said.

The annual license fee for dogs who have been spayed or neutered would rise from $3 to $5, while the fee for dogs who haven't been fixed would rise from $6 to $15, according to the proposal.

The proposed law distinguishes between commercial and noncommercial kennels. The proposal's intent is to give residents who breed animals, but not as their main source of income, a break on the license fee, said Animal Control Supervisor Keller Haden. Some specifics still need to be determined.

Commercial kennel licenses would cost $100, while noncommercial kennel licenses would cost $10.

The proposed law would re-establish the Animal Control Authority, giving it more guidelines and more power to address residents' complaints, Moore said.

A public hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, in the County Commissioners' Meeting Room to hear comments on the proposal.

"I just think these (proposed) laws are really fair and protect not only the pet owner, but the public," Moore said.

When the SPCA receives an animal nuisance complaint, a letter is sent to the pet owner about the law and how to comply, Moore said.

If that doesn't help, an animal control officer visits the home, she said.

After that, the complainant's only option is to go to Washington County Circuit Court.

Under the proposed law, complainants or the SPCA could petition the Animal Control Authority, a five-member, unpaid advisory board. Pet owners or complainants who don't like the board's answer could then appeal to Circuit Court.

The proposed law would allow SPCA officers to determine whether an animal is vicious and keep it in custody until the citizen board can convene an emergency meeting, Moore said.

SPCA animal control officers would investigate every case petitioned to the board and testify at the hearing, Moore said.

The board would have the authority to issue civil fines as well as order an animal to be confined or euthanized, according to the proposal.

Angie Harsh, who was on the last Animal Control Authority, said that it had plenty of authority but the County Commissioners did not listen to the board.

The board became so fed up with the commissioners that the members stopped meeting about four years ago, Harsh said.

Former County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said there were ambiguities and uncertainties with the old authority about who was responsible for what.

The proposed law would give the new authority more direction, Bowers said.

Moore said that while some residents will petition the board with complaints about barking dogs, she can't see a board spending a lot of time on those.

The proposed law is another tool but not a comprehensive solution, Moore said. She will ask the County Commissioners for about $22,000 to fund a fourth animal control officer as the commissioners prepare next fiscal year's budget.

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