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River Heights residents want animal control to take more responsibility

November 8th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

‘There are huge dog problems in the city of River Heights.’

By Lindsay Nemelka

RIVER HEIGHTS — Of all the changes being made to city animal control laws, a cap on late registration fees isn’t one of them. Residents could end up paying enormous fines from previous years before they are issued a current dog license. After discussing changes to the pending ordinance Tuesday, the River Heights Planning Commission is almost ready to open it for public hearing.

Right now River Heights’ residents pay an annual fee of $10 to license a spayed or neutered dog ($20 otherwise). All city fines are due by the first of January, but a grace period of two months is allowed for licensing pets. After March 1, there is an increase in $10 every month the licensing fee is not paid and a notice is sent out to all who have not paid their fine. After a 2-3 week period, names are submitted to animal control and any unlicensed pet owner could receive a citation and fine of $50.

City Recorder Sheila Lind said about 15 names were given to the animal control officer last year, five received a citation, and that number seems to hold steady. She also said there are about 240 licensed dogs in River Heights, “which is a lot more than has ever been licensed before.”

Because all pet licenses expire the first of January, Planning Commission member Rob Astle thinks that’s where general confusion is. The license lasts from Jan. 1 – Jan. 1 of the next year, not one year after the date issued. To avoid future confusion, the commission wants to change the licensing expiration dates from March 1 – March 1, instead of January.

Another change to the ordinance is the amount of days the city will pay for impounded animals. River Heights is required to pay for the boarding of any dog found within their limits. If an owner doesn’t pick up their dog or if the dog is a stray, it ends up costing the city big bucks: $17.50 a day. River Heights is planning to set a limit of five days in which they will pay for impounded dogs. After five days, the custody of the dog goes to the Cache County Sheriff’s Office’s animal control. Lind described an instance where the city had to pay $665 of boarding fees to wait for an owner to decide if he wanted to pick up his dogs from the pound because he couldn’t afford to keep them.

River Heights has been revamping this ordinance since the beginning of October, but the end is finally in sight. Resident Shanna Petersen believes it’s not a moment too soon. She has had several problems with a neighbor’s dog but has gotten no action from animal control. She was instructed by animal control to keep a log of the dog’s behavior. Additionally, she has compiled 21 written statements from neighbors complaining about one dog; however, no action has been taken.

Frustrated at the work she has to go through, Petersen commented that animal control has been less than satisfactory on issuing citations, “I hope that something as simple as 7-10 days of one resident making logs would be powerful enough to take care of the problem, because up until now it hasn’t been.”

Councilwoman Kathryn Hadfield agrees that the ordinance puts a lot of responsibility on the neighbor to report problems. “I think it really bends over backwards to try to protect the dog owner.”

Lind says animal control has been more efficient this year, but response time is still a problem.

Petersen was talking to neighbors who felt the same way about their city’s animal control, “especially from people who have lived in Arizona and California… [the neighbors said] there is no way these dog problems would go on as long as they have. And there are huge dog problems in the city of River Heights.”

However, Astle said he doesn’t want an ordinance that puts all the power with neighbors because there are people who will take advantage of it. “There are people in this town who would take all their neighbors dogs away if they had the opportunity, and will torment the dogs to get them to bark.”

He remarked that he has a problem only requiring a signature of complaint in order to issue a citation of $75 to the dog owner. “Dogs are property. The First Amendment rights are involved and [we] can’t just take someone’s dog away because we don’t like it,” said Astle.

Councilman Blake Wright said, “It’s tough to write an ordinance to cover every situation,” but he hopes the new ordinance will help with some of the dog problems in River Heights.

The barking policy in River Heights is as follows: Upon first complaint, animal control will issue a written warning. At the second offense, if the neighbor is willing to sign a complaint form, animal control issues a citation. Further offences may result in the relinquishment of the dog to the impound facility, where it could be sold or destroyed at the court’s discretion.

Astle wants to be sure that destroying an animal is solely the court’s choice, saying that previously forcing the decision on the animal control officers was wrong. “I think that needs to be a judge’s decision, I don’t want to make the decision, I don’t want our ordinance to make that decision.”

What’s the next step for the animal control ordinance? The commission will send the ordinance to Lt. Locke from animal control to give a final look-over. The commission hopes to have it finalized by their next meeting, and follow with a public hearing before submitting the ordinance to the City Council.

NW

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