City aims to crack down on loose dogs

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Cassville officials budget for catch equipment, plan to use existing facility

After months of pleas, led by Cassville resident Nadean Davis, the city of Cassville gave an answer on Monday as to what they plan to do to curb loose and aggressive dogs within city limits.

Mayor Bill Shiveley said the city considered three options during budget hearings in November.

Option one was to stay the course, with no action taken. Fiscally, this would be $0 for start-up and carry annual reoccurring costs of up to $250.

Option two was to develop a more complete animal control program with a leash law, pet registration, a new facility, an animal control vehicle and a dedicated animal control officer. Estimated costs were $200,000 at start-up and annual costs of about $75,000.

The third option was a hybrid solution, wherein the city will make a concerted effort to enforce the existing ordinances without a leash law or pet registration.

“After looking at everything and discussing it at the budget meeting, it appears option three is the best,” Shiveley said. “Our ordinance already states dogs cannot run free and must have a collar and tag. We are committed to public safety, and we are also committed to spending the city’s tax dollars responsibly.”

Shiveley said the city has bought a special dog trailer to move animals, at a cost of $2,500, and an additional $5,000 is budgeted in 2020 to purchase equipment like heavy duty catch poles, dart guns and other safety equipment. Shiveley also said the city will use its existing animal housing facility, which can hold up to four animals at a time.

“We will use the current holding facility and try to locate the owners,” he said. “If we are at capacity, we will relocate to the Haven [of the Ozarks Animal Shelter] because we have an agreement with them, but they do not take vicious dogs and they do not euthanize, and they have to have room. We also have a resolution to contract with the Joplin Humane Society for transport ofd animals there, and retrieving the animal will be the owner’s responsibility.”

Shiveley said the owner of a dog caught by city staff will be billed for the cost of care while under the city’s control, and will also be subject to a fine per city ordinance.

“If we find the owner and they want the dog back, they will have to pay the bill,” he said. “We will keep dogs until the facility is full and hold them for at least five days, but we will keep them longer if we have room. The trailer can transport six dogs at a time, and the facility can only hold four. [The Humane Society] will hold them for at least seven days. They are akin to a no-kill shelter.”

Fines for dogs caught are no more than $200 for a first offense, and no more than $500 for subsequent offenses.

City officials cited the “At Large” definition in the ordinance as cause for catching dogs. That piece, in section 205.010 of the city code reads, “At Large [is defined as] Off the premises of the owner of such animal and not on a leash controlled by some person physically able to prevent the animal from escaping.”

“At Large” is mentioned in two more sections in the ordinance: 205.060 vicious animals, and 205.110 certain dogs to be confined.

A vicious animal is defined as, “Any animal which has attacked, bitten, or threatened to attack any person being in this City, or which habitually attacks other animals in this City, provided that the same shall have occurred off the premises of the owner.”

In the vicious animal section, 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.” It also says, “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.”

In the certain dogs to be confined section, it says, “No female dogs in heat shall be allowed to run at large or upon the premises of one other than the owner. If such dog is found running at large in violation of this provision, it shall be taken up and impounded and shall not be released except upon the approval of the Chief of Police and after the payment of proper fees. Provided, however, that if the dog so found at large cannot be safely taken up and impounded and efforts to locate the owner are unsuccessful, such dog may be killed.”

A person may also be found guilty of animal trespass, per section 205.090, “if a person having ownership or custody of an animal knowingly fails to provide adequate control for a period equal to or exceeding 12 hours.” That section also says “For a first conviction of animal trespass, each offense shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed two hundred dollars ($200.00). The second and all subsequent convictions shall be punishable by imprisonment or a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00), or both such fine and imprisonment. All fines for a first conviction of animal trespass may be waived by the court provided that the person found guilty of animal trespass shows that adequate, permanent remedies for trespass have been made. Reasonable costs incurred for the care and maintenance of trespassing animals may not be waived. This Section shall not apply to the provisions of Section 578.007 or Sections 272.010 to 272.370, RSMo.”

Steve Walensky, Cassville city administrator, said the city plans to use a common sense approach to dealing with the dog issue, aiming mostly to take care of strays and dogs that roam freely.

“The intent is to address the true dogs at large that are always out,” he said. “It will take some time, proactiveness, common sense and review to see if it’s effective. Personally, I have seen more dogs with collars and leashes than ever before since this started. We are after the dogs that are causing problems.”

Shiveley said a key to the city’s action being successful is cooperation from the residents when it comes to reporting animals.

“This will require an effort from the city to educate our staff, and it will require effort from the residents,” he said. “When there is a dog on the loose, people need to call us so we can make an attempt at catching it.”

Walensky said, at least initially, he expected calls and reports to increase.

“I think there will be a swell of calls because enough people have been made aware the city is making this effort,” he said. “But, it’s hard to do any sort of capacity planning. We will take it as-is.”

Walensky said people should call 911 to report animals, as that allows the city to better-track the reports.

“The police will be the primary contact, and we want people to use 911 to report animals,” he said. “Typically, [Police Chief] Dana [Kammerlohr] will then take the lead on finding the owner, and we have a microchip detector that will determine the owner immediately if the dog is chipped.”

Shiveley said in the months Davis has spoken, with another woman speaking on Davis’ behalf in December, the city has engaged in numerous activities to determine what action should be taken. Those actions included: assigning staff to review current ordinances and procedures; reviewing in person or by phone the practices in the cities of Monett, Aurora, Seligman, Purdy and Exeter; and reviewing online the practices of the cities of Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis and Omaha, Neb.

The issue of loose dogs in the city limits was sparked after Kristie Preddy, Davis’ daughter, was attacked by two dogs on Main Street in August. The attack left her with 25 bites and both arms broken, leading to multiple surgeries and only 5 percent use of her left hand two months after the incident.

The two dogs that involved in that attack were euthanized, and the owner’s municipal case was transferred to county court, with a charge of owner’s dog biting person (second or subsequent bite) resulting in serious injury, a class A misdemeanor. A disposition hearing in that case is set for Jan. 16 at 8:30 a.m. in the courtroom of Judge Robert Foulke.

More recently than Preddy’s attack, a 14-year-old boy was bitten by a dog on 14th and Townsend streets. The victim said he had never seen the adult-size black dog, unknown breed, and does not know who the dog belongs to. Cassville police said the child was treated for injuries at the hospital, which is where they made contact.

The issue of a leash law also came up in 2016, when a woman walking her dog on a leash in her neighborhood aw it attacked and killed by another dog not on a leash.

Davis said she heard the city had purchased the trailer and plans on purchasing other equipment, but she does not think it will be enough.

“With the absence of a true leash and containment law, they haven’t done anything,” she said. I have a neighbor who walks a dog with no leash, and when I say she needs to put it on a leash, she says she doesn’t have to because there is no leash law. Until there is a definitive leash and containment law, I don’t think this will be effective.”

Davis said those who own dogs that run loose do not care what their dogs do, even when they are present while they do it. She cited dogs off leashes who run up to people in their yards, as well as dogs who roam free and defecate on other people’s property.

“Am I suppose to call every time I see a dog in my yard?” she said. “I will continue to push for a leash law until I can walk down the street and not see dogs crossing the road, especially by the school.”

Walensky said issues where owners are present and a dog runs freely off a leash will be covered by the “At Large” definition, as well.

“If a dog is chasing people [or causing a nuisance while the owner is present and off his or her property], the key word there is ‘control,’” he said. “Even if a dog is on a leash, it still has to be controlled. At the end of the day, call us and we’ll help determine what needs to be done. I am confident we will have some elements of success.”

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