Council discusses change in City’s animal ordinance
By Curt Nettinga Tuesday, August 12, 2008
HOT SPRINGS – The Hot Springs City Council held a lively discussion regarding pit bulls in particular and general dog problems in the city at its regular April 7 meeting.
Council member Carl Atchley initiated the discussion by having an agenda item aimed at reviving an ordinance amendment banning pit bulls in the city. The amendment had been brought up in May of last year, but was not enacted at that time. Atchley said that there had been an incident last year with a pit bull.
Animal Control Officer Dave Green said that the same ordinance had been adopted in three other cities in the state with little effect. “The ordinance doesn’t allow for much to help enforce it,” Green said.
Stephanie Anise asked Atchley about the intent of his motion, and Atchley responded that the Public Safety Committee had had discussions previously on banning pit bulls and the breeding of pit bulls in Hot Springs.
Bobbi Hamaker asked Green if there was a specific problem with a pit bull currently, and Green said there was not. Hamaker read from a magazine that showed that pit bulls which had been mistreated had been rehabilitated. “If there is not a problem, what is there to fix?” she asked. “If he (Green) has the authority to take care of any problems, there is really no need to ban any breed.”
Atchley said that he agreed that the problem becomes noticeable when pit bulls are mistreated. “The incident this past year involved a dog that had been, in my opinion, mistreated and trained to attack.”
In general, Green said that part of the problem of enforcing laws and fines is that when a case does proceed as far as court, the judges don’t take any problem with dogs seriously.
“I think they view action against owners of dogs as being frivolous,” Green said. Jim Sword, who was at the meeting in place of City Attorney Pat Ginsbach, said that the last two cases taken to a judge had been fined differing amounts and in both cases the fines were suspended for six months.
“Most of the time, the cases never get to a judge,” Green said. “Most of the time they are handled by the city attorney’s office or the clerk of courts.” But the cases mentioned by Sword were put before the judge and suspended. “So we don’t get the fines or anything,” Green said. “Plus we end up with attorney fees in the process.” In both cases, should there be no further incidents with the animals, all charges and fines are dropped.
Green said that now the plan is for the chief of police to give the judge notification when similar cases are coming up, so that the judge better understands what the city has invested.
City codes, according to Atchley, require a license to breed when there are more than three animals in the same place. A check with City Building Inspector Scott Simianer confirmed that any lot or premises with four or more dogs, more than six months of age, is considered a kennel and as such is considered a commercial business and requires a license.
Green said that his procedure involves talking to the owner of tagged animals he catches running at large and explaining that it is the owner’s responsibility to keep the dogs in check.
“Animals with no tags get taken to the shelter,” Green said, “and the owner will need to pay the fee to get them out. Right now most of those fees are paid at city hall.”
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Bless the Bullys