Animal control update nearing completion
by Emily McLain
Feb 13, 2014 | 1211 views |  0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SYLACAUGA – Increased fines for animals at large is the biggest change included in a proposed update of the city’s animal control ordinance.

The update, led by animal control officer Michelle Taylor, has been in the works since last year, and the City Council is looking to make it official in the near future.

“I think (Taylor) is doing a fine job, and if we could put this ordinance into effect and give her some teeth to use, we could cut down a lot of our problems,” Councilman Joe Hogan said at a council work session last week.

The revised ordinance is based heavily on state code and includes stricter enforcement of the state rabies law and limitations for barking and odors. In addition, Taylor proposed stiff increases in the fines for owners whose pets are picked up outside of their property.

“Something needs to get these people’s attention,” Taylor said, noting that many animals she transports to the animal shelter are seen roaming the streets again after the owner picks them up.

The fines are currently $15 for the first offense, no more than $25 for the second and no more than $500 for the third within a 12-month period.

The new ordinance proposed minimum fines of $50 for the first offense, $125 for the second and $250 for the third.

“I think that is the answer,” Police Chief Chris Carden said.

Hogan said he would like to see the first offense be a warning instead of a fine. He added that even if the fines are not effective in reducing animal control issues, “it hasn’t hurt anything, because what we’re doing now isn’t working either. And if they pay that enough times where they decide not to have dogs anymore, then that’s part of the solution too.”

Another part of solving the problem is educating the public on what their responsibility as a pet owner is, Carden said.

“What we really want to try to avoid is people getting the impression that it is the police department’s responsibility to keep your dog up,” he said. “If we get into that pit, we’re going to need five or six more animal control officers. It’s our job to enforce the ordinance, but we have one person to do this job.”

Taylor said when responding to a call, she makes it a point to explain the ordinance to pet owners.

“I tell people to take the money you could be charged for a fine and go buy a $125 electric fence system or something,” she said. “I always try to educate the public when I go out and talk to them.”

As far as the ordinance revision, it is basically complete, and Council President Rocky Lucas suggested sending it to city attorney Win Livingston for a final review.

“I guess the next step in this is getting it in Win’s hands and getting it drafted and passed,” Lucas said.

On a related note, Hogan said he had received questions from citizens about how to file a complaint against a pet owner whose animal does not stay on their property. Taylor said she can only cite an owner if she witnesses the pet in violation of the ordinance; however, anyone can file a complaint with the municipal court magistrate.

“What if I hate my neighbor and I want to get back at them and say their dog is in violation. I can file a complaint to the magistrate, even if it’s false, and they still have to answer to that?” Hogan asked.

Carden said the process to file a complaint includes a probable cause hearing where the magistrate determines if there is evidence to move forward. The person then has to sign the document stating the information they are providing is correct.

“Obviously, if the person is just harassing the neighbor, we’d pick up on that pretty quick,” Carden said.

Taylor said the “biggest complaint I have from several neighborhoods is the issue of restraint. When people are walking their dogs through the neighborhood, we have a tremendous amount of dogs coming out of other yards attacking them and their dogs. Then you’ve got the owner of the dog who wants to get verbal with the person. It’s becoming more and more of an issue.”

Taylor said she patrols as many areas as she can, but “it’s up to the public to let me know when there is a problem.”

Contact Emily McLain at emclain@dailyhome.com.