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City animal ordinance under review

News Staff Writer

Atmore City Council members are considering an amendment to the city’s animal ordinance that would, for lack of a better term, put more teeth into the municipal statute and put a leash on habitual violators.
Brandon James, who serves as director of the City of Atmore / Poarch Creek Indians Animal Shelter just off Cindebran Road, told the city council during their February 11 workshop that he would like to see the ordinance changed to better match the ones currently in force in Huntsville, Fairhope and several other communities.
He said the amendment would better protect the public, providing a safer and cleaner community, and would also protect the dogs that would be affected by the change.
“It’s a no-tether proposal, where it would make it illegal to have your dog chained up with any fixed-point chain,” James said. “That means you can’t chain your dog to a tree, a doghouse or anything like that.”
No more trolleys
James said the proposed amendment would go a step farther, also outlawing the use of a trolley system to control an unattended canine. A trolley system allows for a dog to run freely along the length of the rope or other fixture to which the trolley line is attached.
“After reading through many ordinances, most of the ones that have the no-tether in effect will allow you to have a trolley system,” he explained. “From Point A to Point B, they can run the cable, which has to be no more than 10 feet high and no less than seven feet.
“Personally, I still think there’s room for a non-socialized dog to get off a trolley system. Then you have a violation of the leash law and, if it’s vicious, you still have that vicious dog running loose. I like the idea I just proposed, that if you’re going to do an anti-tether (amendment), that you do away with tethering, period, that you don’t allow a trolley system.”
The current city ordinance provides that “it shall be unlawful for any person to permit a dog or cat to run or be upon a street, alley, sidewalk, thoroughfare or public place within the city, unless secured by a suitable leash.”
It also limits to three the number of adult dogs (those over six weeks old) that may be legally kept at a residence or business.
Exceeding the limit
James reported that the last part of that provision is being ignored by many.
“We’ve fought some cases for the past seven or eight years where these people have dogs chained up in their backyard, and we’re still issuing citations for that because they’re over the limit,” he said. “One citation I issued recently was for a guy who had nine pit bulls in his backyard.”
Council member Susan Smith asked what steps were being taken to eliminate the violation, and James provided a detailed response.
“That’s just an ongoing thing,” he said. “We’ve gone after the owner; it just hasn’t done any good. This is his second violation, so he’ll come in and pay a fine, per animal. We get a lot of calls about the foul odor, the feces and things like that. Plus, it’s an eyesore.”
The current ordinance stipulates that a first violation draws a written warning and gives the pet owner five days to comply. A second violation results in a fine of $15 per adult animal over the limit, and the fine goes up to $25 per over-ordinance adult animal for a third violation.
A fourth violation earns a trip to city court, where the pet owner faces “a fine in an amount not to exceed $500, or imprisonment for not more than 30 days, or both fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the municipal judge trying the case.”
The shelter director told city officials that if the animal ordinance is amended to his recommendation, the eyesore problem would be eliminated by a requirement that dog owners who have a backyard would have to have an enclosed space of at least 100 square feet, per animal.
“If you don’t have a backyard, you’ll have to purchase a kennel or build a fence,” he explained. “Inside that fence, you would have to have a four-sided doghouse, with an entrance.”
He added that the amendment would prohibit dog owners from using “barrels, drums, airline crates or any of that” as doghouses. He also encouraged council members to consider requiring a floor in such enclosures to eliminate the possible health and nuisance problems that are created after rains.
Cats on a leash?
The discussion took on a lighter mood when Smith pointed out that the city’s leash law also provides that cats are not allowed on a public thoroughfare or off their owners’ property unless they are on a leash.
“Why do we have to have a leash law regarding a cat?” she asked rhetorically. “Have you ever tried to put a leash on a cat? I just think it’s ridiculous for us to have a leash law for cats. I told somebody that we had that, and they thought it was the craziest thing they’d ever heard. I’ve seen pigs and such on a leash, but I have yet to see a cat.”
James conceded that point but reported that free-moving felines result in numerous complaints every year.
“I agree that it’s hard to confine a cat to your property,” he said. “But 90 percent of the calls we get on cats is because they’re walking on vehicles or walking through flower beds, doing all that.”
When James has worked out a final draft of his proposal, he will present it to the mayor and council for their consideration as to whether or not the rewritten ordinance should be brought before the council for a vote.