by BRAD ROLLINS
A proposed rewrite of the city’s ordinances on the treatment of pets and other animals has some council members bracing for a backlash from constituents they think will find the rules unduly intrusive.
Drafted by the Animal Shelter Advisory Board comprised of San Marcos, Kyle and Hays County appointees, the proposed changes include provisions that establish what is commonly called a catch, neuter and return program for feral cats and requires residents whose animals are impounded to attend a pet owner responsibility course before getting their animals back. The ordinance also revives a ban on transporting dogs in the bed of pickup trucks without tethers, a proposal that outraged some residents when the city council considered, and eventually rejected, a similar law in 2006.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance on the first of three readings but only after members took turns for nearly an hour airing reservations. Several members, including Mayor Susan Narvaiz, said they could not support the proposal further without weighing concerns about the ordinance’s reach and whether it leaves too much discretion in the hands of animal control officers.
Said Narvaiz, “We’ve learned that when we hear the words ‘officers’ discretion’ the result is an inequitable application of the regulation.”
San Marcos’ animal services director Bert Stratemann noted that several sections questioned by council members are present in the existing code. Putting more teeth in ordinances gives officers leverage to stop the inhumane treatment of pets, he said: “Just like a police officer has many tools in his bag of tricks to deal with the education, we have many tools that we use.”
“We see too many animals every day who don’t have any shelter, who are out there chained to a tree with no food and no water,” Stratemann said.
Although they seemed to vary in their degrees of enthusiasm for addressing animal issues, the council nearly to the person questioned various aspects of the proposed rules. A few council members, including, John Thomaides and Chris Jones, said they agree with the general intent of the ordinance.
“The spirit of what is going on here is that we’re taking a different approach to how we treat our animals and holding our community members accountable for how they treat their animals. …If you have a child that is abused and a child being neglected, they don’t allow the child to stay there, they go and take that child,” Jones said.
Some of his colleagues, however, alluded to wide-ranging differences on what constitutes adequate pet care.
“I’m a country boy and alot of the things you’re talking about outlawing are just the way we did things,” said council member Gaylord Bose. In addition, he wondered whether requiring residents to take a weekend pet owner course before retrieving their pets from the shelter would force them to pay boarding fees unnecessarily.
Changes included in the code, as outlined in a city staff memo on the proposal, include: