Cassville City Council takes no action on leash law request

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Horner: We have laws on the books for biting dogs

The city of Cassville has declined a resident's request to enact a leash law in Cassville, pointing to laws already on the books regarding vicious dogs as adequate in addressing the issue presented to the council last month.

Jon Horner, alderman, discussed the topic at length on Monday, sympathizing with the resident, Tracy Youngblood, who was forced to put down her chihuahua after it was attacked by a pit bull during a routine neighborhood walk.

"Biting and aggressive dogs aren't welcome in Cassville," Horner said. "Former Mayor Rolland Meador once said, 'I don't want any damn biting dogs in Cassville.' I totally agree. Because of this, we have laws on the books in Cassville to handle biting dogs."

Dana Kammerlohr, Cassville police chief, said according to city records, Cassville received an average of 7.3 calls per month regarding animals in 2015.

The vast majority of the calls, 51, were for animal nuisance regarding pets more often than strays. Other reports included 18 vicious animal calls, including five dog bites; eight abandonment reports; eight more reports for strays or hazardous animals; and two calls for animal neglect.

The laws Horner referred to, in Chapter 210 of the city code, require pet owners to keep their animals from creating a nuisance, such as defecating on another person's property; causing disturbances by barking or howling; chasing vehicles or bicycles; and threatening, attacking biting or interfering with people or other animals on public property or another person's property.

A separate section of the 
ordinance covers vicious dogs alone. It says:

"It shall be unlawful for any person to keep, harbor or bring within this City any vicious animal, and suffer or permit the same to be or run at large upon any public street, sidewalk or thoroughfare, or on the premises of persons other than the owner, within the City.

"Any animal that has attacked, bitten or acted in a threatening manner toward any person in this City, or which habitually attacks other animals in this City, is declared to be vicious and may be impounded as provided in this Chapter.

"If a vicious animal or stray found running at large, in violation of this Chapter, cannot safely be taken up and impounded, the Cassville Police or such other employees or officers of the City as the Board of Aldermen may designate are authorized to kill the same."

All dogs and cats in the city are also required to wear a collar with the owner's name and address, and a tag or certificate verifying the animal has been vaccinated for rabies. Female dogs in heat are also to be confined, and may be impounded if found running at large.

The Cassville Police Department is charged with impounding animals deemed as strays or that repeatedly violate the ordinance. Strays deemed to present a threat to the health and welfare of the city and cannot be safely impounded may be killed.

Animals may be impounded for no more than seven days, and if no owner claims the animal, it may be euthanized or sold.

An owner who does recover an animal from the city pound, which is currently a five-run facility on Highway 248 near the city well No. 2, shall pay a $25 fee for each day the animal was kept, and the owner also has five days after recovering the animal to provide the city a copy of its immunization record.

"Animals determined to be vicious, after a full investigation by an authorized city official, will be euthanized," the ordinance states.

Violation of the ordinance also comes with a misdemeanor charge, leading to a fine of between $25 and $500, plus court cost and impoundment or other fees relating to the animal.

Horner said he believes these laws are adequate and should be enforced, rather than enacting a leash law he is not sure is needed or would work as intended.

"Making a knee-jerk reaction based upon one occurrence or emotion is typically bad public policy," he said. "Are we experiencing a rash of dog bites or attacks in Cassville? Based upon the facts, the answer is, no."

Horner said aside from the leash law, an animal control department would likely be too pricey for the city to initiate, especially with other projects already on the horizon.

"We don't have the money for a full-time animal control officer, an animal control truck, staff to operate a bad dog facility, nor a facility to house bad dogs," he said. "The initial costs would be approximately $250,000 for facilities, equipment and a vehicle. Annual operating costs would be approximately $65,000. Within 10 years, the city could spend nearly $1 million to properly enforce a leash law. Additionally, the citizens would face costs, [like] annual registration fees for dogs, fencing materials and installation/repair of fences to keep dogs from roaming.

"We have laws on the books to handle bad dogs without having to subject the citizens of Cassville to a new and heightened level of cost and unneeded bureaucracy via a leash law. However, I am open to hearing ideas from citizens about their preferences to fund pressing issues in our community: flood mitigation, expansion of water and sewer lines, repairing existing sewer lines, economic development, leash laws and expansion of our sewage treatment plant, just to name a few. Which issue is the most important to the citizens of Cassville?"

Horner said to correct any of the issues would likely require a dedicated sales tax, as the city does not have the funds for any of them at the moment.

"I cannot in good conscience vote for a law that cannot be supported financially at this time by the city of Cassville," he said.

The city of Monett, which has a population about 9,000 compared to Cassville's just over 3,000, has a full-time animal control officer. He earns a salary of $30,480, and another $12,386 is spent on benefits. A division of the city's police department, the budget for animal control is $17,500 for the year, which pays for food, water and building maintenance. But, City Administrator Dennis Pyle said there's no reason for it to be that high, as the city averages only about $8,000 in expenses annually.

Monett is also in the beginning stages of building a $150,000 facility to house animals, and between $130,000 and $140,000 of that cost has already been raised through donations. The animal control truck, including the box needed to transport animals, was purchased six years ago, at a total cost of $28,988.

Jerry Marple, alderman acting as mayor pro tem in Mayor Bill Shiveley's absence at the city council meeting Monday, said he believed hiring an animal control officer would seem like hiring a Maytag repair man.

"A lot of the time, he wouldn't have a lot to do," he said. "Our current ordinance does fine, and if anyone has an issue, they can call the police. The dog compound we have is also pretty nice, but it's not used very often. And then, what would we do about cats?"

Kammerlohr said the calls regarding animals are taken by priority, and any officer on duty at the time may respond to a call. The facility on Highway 248 housed two animals in March of this year, where dogs had escaped their pen and the owner was located within one hour. The last use of the facility in 2015 was in November.

Kammerlohr said people should not approach any animal unless the owner approves, and wild animals should be left completely alone.

"Owners should be responsible to take care of their animals and have them vaccinated as their veterinarian recommends," she said. "In the spring, we see more groups of dogs, and this may be because the female comes in season during this time. Owners who have intact females should be sure their animals are kept inside during this time as to keep down the pet population of unwanted litters."

Kammerlohr also said owners should be sure their pets are current on their rabies vaccinations.

"This is a disease that can be transmitted to humans and is usually fatal," she said. "Just recently in Howell County, there was a puppy that was a confirmed case of rabies. It was reported the other pets the puppy was around were euthanized, and several people had to take the inoculations for rabies."

Kammerlohr said in Cassville in 2015, five people were possibly exposed to rabies. The last exposure in the city was in April of this year.

"A gentleman picked up a puppy and placed it back in the fence it had gotten out of, and the mother dog bit him," she said. "We had three before this that were bit by the same dog, which was a stray."

Kammerlohr said that dog has since been caught and euthanized, and a brain test for rabies was negative.

To report a nuisance animal, vicious dog or a stray, people may call the police department at 417-847-4700.

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