San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

December 17th, 2008
San Marcos council passes animal ordinance, with changes

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

After the deletion of a controversial section requiring that dogs be tethered while transported in pick-up trucks, along with other slight revisions, the San Marcos City Council passed a new animal control ordinance on Tuesday night’s second reading.

The ordinance, which goes into effect on April 1, still requires that pets be microchipped for registration and includes aggressive measures for addressing dangerous dogs. However, it also softened a requirement that the owners of impounded animals attend pet owner responsibility classes before their animals are returned, limiting it to cases in which an animal was abused or neglected, or if the animal had been picked up twice previously running loose.

The city council went unanimously for the ordinance after another discussion about the concept of tethering dogs in the beds of pick-up trucks, even though that provision was deleted by the city’s animal shelter advisory board since the city council first considered the ordinance on Dec. 2. Councilmembers indicated Tuesday that the advisory board could come back with a revised tethering provision at a later time.

The earlier version of the proposal said it would count as a violation to transport any animal without “effectively restrain(ing) such animal so as to prevent the animal from leaving, being injured or accidentally thrown from the vehicle during normal operation of the vehicle or fail(ing) to restrain the animal so as to prevent infliction of bodily harm to any passerby …”

The city council considered a similar measure in 2006 before voting it down after public opposition. Coucilmembers were no more willing to approve the provision this time, in part because it was written so broadly as to cover not just dogs in pick-up trucks, but any animal in any vehicle.

A memo to the city council from the city’s animal services department said the provision was removed because cases of dogs thrown from pick-ups is infrequent and, further, because cases of dogs leaving pick-ups and attacking humans now are covered under state laws placing criminal responsibility on the owners of animals that bite other people.

San Marcos veterinarian Jeff Jorgensen, chairman of the advisory committee, told the council Tuesday night that “the main reason we put (the restraint requirement) in was for the safety of people who are near the vehicle,” though he later added that, “As a veterinarian, we see that all the time, animals who have fallen out of the back of pick-up trucks.”

If the main motive were the safety of passersby, San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said she was still unconvinced. Narvaiz said she surveyed local animal shelters and veterinarians to discover that the incidence of dogs jumping out of pick-ups to attack humans doesn’t justify the restraint requirement.

“It’s very rare,” she said.

San Marcos Animal Services Manager Bert Stratemann said after the vote that cases of dogs leaving the beds of pick-ups probably are under-reported. But he also said he was happy with the vote, adding that it was worth passing the rest of the ordinance to delete the tethering provision.

“We did well,” Stratemann said. “We have an ordinance that gives us more tools for public safety.”

The new ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to keep a dog or cat more than four months old without a microchip registration issued by the city. Stratemann said the microchip registration would require a one-time fee, rather than annual registrations. In addition, he said, the measure would make it much easier for the city to return lost or impounded animals to their owners.

“The old tag registration was pretty ineffective,” Stratemann said. “Tags would fall of, and there was little or no compliance.”

The ordinance also replaces the designation of “vicious animals” from the former version with a designation of “dangerous animals” to comply with changes to state law. The ordinance regards as “dangerous animals” those that commit unprovoked injury attacks on humans or other domestic animals, or any animal that “would constitute a danger to human life or property” due to “its physical nature or vicious propensity.”

If the city court determines that an animal is dangerous, the animal must either be removed from the city, euthanized or returned to its owner under demanding conditions. Among those conditions is the maintenance of $250,000 worth of insurance, sterilization of the animal, retention of the animal in a suitable enclosure unless it is restrained, and payment of an annual “dangerous animal fee.”

The ordinance also sets out rules for managed feral cat colonies based on Trap, Vaccinate, Alter, Return and Manage (TVARM) that gives the city’s animal services department better control over such programs, particularly with regard to potential nuisance problems.

The city’s animal services department advocated pushing the effective date back to April 1 to allow time for a public education program regarding the changes. Among the educational measures, the city will conduct public education meetings in the city hall chambers on Jan. 8, Jan. 26 and Feb. 8. As originally drafted, the ordinance would have taken effect on Dec. 26.

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2 thoughts on “San Marcos council passes animal ordinance, with changes

  1. Pingback: In microchip debate, city points to family's reunion with Smokey the cat | San Marcos Mercury

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