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January 27th, 2009
Freethought San Marcos: Council goes from doghouse to the dog pound

Freethought San Marcos: A column

Animal control issues are always controversial, especially in small towns such as San Marcos. When the city council adopted its recent revision of the animal control ordinance, it failed to address the most difficult problem of all, namely, enforcement.

In November, I discussed this issue with several city staff members and found that they were fixated on the fact that San Marcos did not have a “dangerous dog” ordinance, which they believed made it nearly impossible for them to do anything about a dog repeatedly attacking deer in my neighborhood. The first such attack by the dog in question involved a fawn. The second attack was on a grown deer, which was crippled by the dog to such an extent that an animal control officer who responded to the situation called for a San Marcos police officer to kill the deer.

At the time this happened, just a month before the council adopted the new ordinance, there was an animal control ordinance which authorized the Municipal Court Judge to revoke the license of a “public nuisance animal” or a “vicious animal.” If the dog’s license is revoked, it cannot lawfully be kept in the city limits. An owner who refuses to move such a dog out of the city limits can be cited for repeated violations of the ordinance until removal is accomplished, which could be helped along by a court order for such removal, punishable by contempt.

The earlier ordinance defined a “public nuisance animal” as any animal that “attacks other animals,” among other things. A “vicious animal” is one that “commits an unprovoked attack upon a person or animal on public or private property.” “Animal” includes both domestic and wild “vertebrate creatures.”

To prosecute, the Assistant City Attorney I communicated with about the case needed the following information:

  1. Can you positively, through personal knowledge, identify the dog in question?
  2. Can you, through personal knowledge, positively prove that the dog belongs to the owner?
  3. Are you willing, either on your own or by subpoena, to testify to the facts (related above)?
  4. Are you willing to file a signed, written complaint with the legal department so that citation may issue?

I answered all the questions “yes,” but the head of Animal Control did not want to prosecute, so the matter was dropped by city officials.

Many residents seem concerned about the requirement in the new ordinance for micro-tagging all domestic dogs and cats. This is certainly a good idea for helping animal control identify lost animals. However, I haven’t heard how many animals picked up by animal control are lost, rather than abandoned. Nor have I heard how many animals encountered by animal control belong to people inside the San Marcos city limits. Before burdening taxpayers with another unfunded mandate that is not related to health or safety, there should be compelling evidence that the new requirement solves a significant problem that should be addressed by government regulation.

Let me be clear. I support micro-tagging for anyone who feels a need to purchase that service. I don’t support making everyone do it without more evidence that it serves a legitimate public purpose. An anecdote about a family recovering a lost pet is not such evidence.

As to how pets are treated, I can attest that, for the last forty years, the dogs owned by my family have always been a significant part of our family. They are kept in our house and fenced back yard. When we rented and did not have a fenced back yard, we made one with inexpensive roll fencing. Our dogs have enjoyed a “doggy door” when that was possible, so that they could come and go at will. Our dog sleeps in our master bedroom at night. We make considerable efforts to assure his welfare, all without the necessity of government telling us what to do.

The protection of pets is a legitimate function of government. Since there is no inherent constitutional right to own a pet, someone who will not, or cannot, keep a pet under satisfactory conditions should not have one. Pet ownership is a significant responsibility. Prohibiting the tethering of dogs, which was dropped from the ordinance because it was deemed too costly, is an idea worthy of consideration. Tethering, other than briefly, is cruel. Roll fencing and a few steel posts cost very little, especially when that cost is contrasted with how tethering affects dogs. Overall, the cost would be far less than the cost to the taxpayers of microchip implants for all dogs and cats.

So far as I can tell, implanting a microchip does not correct cruelty, abuse, or neglect. According to the Humane Society, 39% of households own at least one dog, and almost as many own at least one cat. There are about 16,500 households in San Marcos. We can assume for purposes of this example that there are about 6500 pet dogs in San Marcos, and 6,000 pet cats. At the cost of about $20 per implant, a requirement that forces pet owners to implant mirochips in 12,500 pets would cost taxpayers about $250,000. The figure could, of course, be higher if my conservative figures concerning pet ownership are low.

Without a doubt, a more thorough vetting process about new animal control regulations before their adoption might have avoided many of the concerns voiced by San Marcos residents about the new ordinance. For people who neglect or abuse their pets, or allow them to attack other animals or people, there should be enforceable laws to correct the problems. But until the leadership of the animal control staff is willing to enforce the laws we now have, there is no reason to add new regulations. And, surely, we should never add regulations of questionable value.

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2 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Council goes from doghouse to the dog pound

  1. This is one of the only rational discussions of the issues I’ve read anywhere. You ever think of running for city council Lamar?

  2. As City Attorney from 1984 to 1989, I attended enough council meetings for one lifetime. When I have attended the meetings occasionally in recent years, it only makes clear to me that I reached my lifetime limit 20 years ago.

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