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Some question whether the city's proposed animal control ordinance is unconstitutional.
Published Aug. 9, 2007

Nearly 100 people turned out to debate the city's controversial animal control ordinance Tuesday evening, with almost all of the speakers saying they opposed the three-pet limit per household and the proposed ban on feeding strays and wildlife.

Some said the proposed ban on feeding stray dogs, cats, ducks and wildlife would be inhumane. Others questioned whether the limit on household pets was unconstitutional.

"Where does the Constitution prohibit the number of (animals) I can take into my home?" asked Robin Gordon, who added that the city would put itself at risk of lawsuits with the ordinance. "We've got crime, the Main Street Landing fiasco, insurance, tax problems. ... How much do you want to spend trying to defend saying how many pets I can have?"

Jodi Chemes, also a resident, suggested the city get rid of a numerical ban and instead pass a law prohibiting hoarding, which would allow the city to take situations on a case-by-case basis.

Resident Henry Ritter said the ordinance would deprive people of the pleasure of feeding birds. And he worried about what would happen to the community when people started turning in their neighbors.

"You're going to pit neighbor against neighbor," he said.

Other speakers said the city should focus on spay and neuter programs to control the stray population.

One resident said he supported the city trying to do something more to control the cat problem in his neighborhood. John Sessa said the odor from the large number of stray cats was becoming unbearable.

"What bothers me a great deal is the property damage I have received ... because of the feeding of the animals," he said. "Who pays for this? Why should we?"

Nearly a year ago, City Council gave administrators the go-ahead to rewrite the animal control ordinance so that police could take stronger actions against owners of dogs that bite people.

But when the ordinance - which also addresses the neglect of animals - came back last month for the first of two votes, it had more substantial changes, including the ban on feeding wildlife and strays. (The three-pet limit dates to 1964.)

City Attorney Tom Morrison has said he and police officials realized that more comprehensive revisions were in order.

The city ordinance did not comply with state law when it comes to how animal cases are prosecuted. State law says all animal control cases should be enforced through the county court system; the city has been using the code enforcement board.

At press time, City Council members had not gotten a chance to vote on the ordinance or to discuss whether they wanted to amend such provisions as the pet limit.