By ANDY SEVILLA
San Marcos City Councilmembers are about to revisit a new animal control ordinance, which has elicited more controversy than ever since its passage in December.
Among most contentious features of the ordinance is a requirement that all adult dogs and cats are to be microchipped for registration. Citizens have spoken fears that the measure could be dangerous for their animals, along with their concerns about an over-reaching government.
Mayor Susan Narvaiz, who said she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the ordinance when it passed, has placed the matter on Thursday night’s city council agenda.
“Because of the questions being raised, we felt we should bring it back and have those questions answered,” Narvaiz said.
The ordinance is scheduled to take effect on April 1. However, the fall-out from citizens this month has compelled councilmembers to second-guess themselves, opening the possibility that the ordinance could be significantly revised.
“I was feeling really strong about (the animal ordinance) and now I’m listening and looking at both sides,” Councilmember Pam Couch said. “I’m still trying to decide what is best for the community. I have strong convictions one way and strong convictions the other.”
Narvaiz said putting the issue back on the agenda will provide for a satisfactory result.
“I’m not advocating for any outcome,” Narvaiz said. “I’m simply facilitating more discussion on issues brought to our attention by our citizens. I think it’s our job to do due diligence when provided with new information. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Not everybody agrees that further discussion is necessary. Councilmember John Thomaides said all the questions have been asked and enough time has been invested into the ordinance. Thomaides said the city’s animal advisory board spent a year formulating the ordinance in open sessions.
Furthermore, said Thomaides, the city council voted unanimously for the ordinance on the second reading after public comments before the council expressed support. Those discussions were televised locally on the city’s cable channel.
“I wouldn’t support setting it aside,” Thomaides said. “I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why we would repeal it, if that was the intent. I think that would be unwise. This is a good ordinance. Since when do we vote on things, and then set them aside?”
Thomaides added, though, that he is committed to keeping an open mind, should new information compel him to see the matter differently.
Bert Stratemann, the city’s animal services manager, said the ordinance is fine as it stands, adding that he would have preferred an even more extensive ordinance.
“We’re showing we’re a progressive community that looks out for the welfare and cares about the animals that are in the community,” Stratemann said. “And a community that shows compassion and caring for the animals of the community really is a nice community.”
Couch said the animal advisory board could have solicited more public input from the beginning, thus reducing concerns and complaints. Couch said it wasn’t sufficient to hold public education meetings only at the tail end, once the ordinance had been passed.
“As we hear more from our citizens, we have to weigh out all our options,” Couch said. “I didn’t think it was going to be an issue, and it’s turned into one. I can see both sides and need to decide what will be best for our community.”
Stratemann said one of his main concerns is the sheer number of animals the city ends up putting down. The San Marcos animal shelter took in 5,555 animals last year, returning only 682 to their owners. The city exterminated 4,057 animals. Stratemann said microchipping animals, which is a stipulation of the new ordinance, is paramount in reuniting pets with owners and reducing unfortunate killings.
However, the mandatory microchipping of dogs and cats is the most controversial order in the ordinance. Several councilmembers have said they received letters, calls and e-mails in strong opposition to the mandate, although some have been in support.
“I just want to make sure that the questions that were brought forth by the citizens are addressed to the satisfaction of the council,” Narvaiz said. “There should have been more public hearings at the board level before coming to council.”
Despite numerous complaints to councilmembers, none have indicated that a motion to repeal that provision will arise at Thursday’s meeting. But the council will consider all options permissible by law, including the possibility of further delaying the effective date.
“The committee that worked on this is very important,” Couch said. “Their task was to provide an ordinance to protect our animals, and I think they’ve done that. Now, we have to look at this ordinance and make sure that is not way to the left or way to the right, but, instead, an enforceable ordinance for the safety of our animals. I hope the community understands that whatever the decision the council makes will be the best decision for San Marcos.”
The ordinance provides for several alterations of local rules applying to rabies vaccinations, the microchip program, restrictions on tethering, restrictions on the number of animals that can be kept, regulations on feral cat colonies, and a ban against selling or giving away animals on public property, private parking lots and flea markets.
“Our ordinance was not that bad before the changes that were made, but this one makes a lot of clarifications,” Stratemann said. “This new one brings us up to state standards and provides clarification.”
If the San Marcos City Council doesn’t revise its new animal control
ordinance, then Gabi the poodle will have to be microchipped by April
1. Photo by Andy Sevilla.