Council talks pit bulls, cat licenses

Ordinance amendments would address pit bull concerns, require cat licensing

by nathan oster

The Greybull Town Council on Monday approved on first reading an ordinance amendment that would require cat owners to license their pets and another one that would address concerns about the pit bull population in Greybull.

Doug Youngerman, the town’s animal control officer, introduced both ordinance amendments during Monday meeting, as well as a “Trap, Spay, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return to the Streets” cat-management plan that he wants to implement in cooperation with local veterinarians.

The first ordinance amendment, to Chapter 6.04, would make licenses a requirement for cats, just as they have been for dogs.  The proposed ordinance would read as follows in Chapter 6.04.030:  “It is unlawful for any person to own or keep a dog or cat within the Town of Greybull without first obtaining from the town clerk of the Town of Greybull license for such dog or cat and paying the fee therefore as provided by this chapter.”

The town clerk would provide a metal plate or tag with each license, bearing the number of the license and the year for which it was issued, and that plate or tag would need to be attached to the cat at all times.

Youngerman said most Wyoming cities require cat licenses, and that the licensing requirement “will help me know which cat belongs where.”  He will also push for microchips to be implanted in cats, saying that with a reader in his truck, he could immediately determine the owner of any cat that he picks up.

Youngerman said the ordinance amendment also gives him “more teeth to go after dogs that are being badly abused in town,” by allowing him to go onto private property to conduct animal welfare investigations.

The new ordinance would also make it illegal for anyone to “willfully allow any animal to fight, worry or injure another animals.” He said he recently took a call involving three pit bulls that were fighting.  There was nothing he could do about it because they were “on the wrong property.”  The amendment “gives me another way to get in there and do something about it.”

The amended ordinance would also give the animal control office the right to chemically immobilize to humanely capture animals. Youngerman called it “a last resort,” saying the only time he could imagine using it would be to retrieve a vicious dog on the loose.

The part of the amended ordinance that drew the most discussion pertained to kennel licenses.

Youngerman said some people in town have 15 to 18 cats, others seven to 11 dogs.  If the amended ordinance is ultimately approved, those people would be grandfathered in and not have to purchase a kennel license. But as their dogs die, they would not be able to replace them without purchasing a kennel license.

The license or annual renewal inspection fee for kennels would be $2 per year.

The council devoted considerable time to defining a kennel.  The ordinance amendment that was proposed by Youngerman defined a kennel as “composed of three or more animals of any one species.” The council instead opted to set “four or more of any animal species” in its definition.

Councilman Myles Foley spoke in support of the ordinance amendment, calling it “a good way to control people from getting carried away,” while Councilman Bob McGuire said he supports making people more accountable for their pets.  Often times, he said, the problems aren’t the pets themselves; it’s their owners, who don’t take good care of them and are inconsiderate of others.

 

Pit bull ordinance

The section of the town code falling under the header of noisy, vicious and prowling cats and dogs would be radically re-written under a proposed amendment that would more tightly regulate ownership of pit bulls.

The current ordinance defines a vicious dog as any dog that “attacks, rushes or bites, snaps or snarls or in any manner menaces any person, vehicle or other animal outside the premises of its owner or keeper, or shows any plausible tendency to do so, without provocation.”

To Youngerman, that doesn’t go far enough. His proposal is for the creation of an ordinance, 6.08.070, that deals with pit bull breed dogs and other vicious dogs.

The ordinance would set as a definition for pit bull “any American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier or any dog which as the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly in any one or more of the aforementioned breeds.”

Youngerman said this community has been fortunate that no one has been injured in a pit bull attack.  “We have some very scary pit bulls out there,” he said, adding that five have had to be euthanized since Aug. 31.  During that same time frame, 14 new ones have been registered by the town.

Youngerman said there is justification for pursuing a ban on pit bulls, saying that many other communities have already done so.  But he stopped short of making that his recommendation, instead favoring a plan to more tightly control pit bull ownerships.

The new ordinance would put an end to the days when owners left their pit bulls tied to a chain in their yard. If approved, owners would be required to keep their pit bulls “indoors, in a securely enclosed and locked pen or kennel approved by the town’s animal control officer or in a fenced area approved by the animal control officer, except when leashed.”

If the pit bill is out its confined area, it would have to be on a leash no longer than 4 feet and it would have to be muzzled at all times, states the ordinance. A pit bull owner would also be required to provide the animal control officer with two color photographs of the pit bull.

“I’m afraid of what could happen” if we don’t take action, said Youngerman. “We’re going to have a child or another human being killed. I’m trying to get a handle on this before we have an attack.”

A pit bull owner would also be required to post signs on his or her property, warning passers-by that there is a pit bull on the property, and provide the town with proof of public liability insurance in a single amount of $250,000 for bodily injury to or death of any person or persons.

Youngerman said the new ordinance wouldn’t restrict anyone’s choice to own a pit bull, but it does say that if they are going to own them, they must take full responsibility for their pet.

At one point in the discussion, Police Chief Bill Brenner was asked if he’s received any reports of dog-fighting rings in Greybull. “We have had our suspicions,” he said, “but we haven’t gathered enough evidence to warrant it.”

Youngerman said he doesn’t believe there are dog fighting rings in Greybull, but he didn’t rule out the possibility that pit bulls were being trained to fight here and taken to other parts of the country for competitions.

Councilman Clay Collingwood said he doesn’t feel like the ordinance goes far enough, encouraging the town to expand the list from just pit bulls to other dogs known to be vicious, using the American Kennel Club’s definition.

Youngerman said pit bulls belong in a class by themselves, noting that he’s used spray effectively on other breeds.  But with the pit bull, it doesn’t even slow them down.

Councilman Bob McGuire, who ultimately cast the only dissenting vote on first reading, said he’s been chewed on by all breeds in his 30 years in law enforcement and that he felt the ordinance was a kneejerk reaction.

He said it boils down to personal responsibility. He said a vicious animal is a vicious animal. “If the meter reader can’t walk into your yard with the expectation of safety, that is a vicious animal,” he said. “As the owner, you have to take responsibility, either by building a kennel or providing for safety.”

McGuire said the town already has an ordinance on the books and that the new one isn’t needed.  People just need to be responsible for their pets, he said.

Collingwood said he, as much as any other councilman, he opposes unnecessary ordinances, but that he supports this one.  Having a 2-year-old son is one reason, he said, adding that kids, in particular, might not always know to be afraid of pit bulls that they encounter. “I may be more nervous because I have young children, but I’d rather take care of it now than take care of it later,” he said.

Brenner added, “There’s a reason they are banning them all around the United States. Towns and cities aren’t banning other breeds; they’re only banning pit bulls.”

Councilman Ross Jorgensen said he would approve the ordinance on first reading, but wants additional information about what other municipalities in Wyoming have pit bull ordinances on the books before he gives it a second reading.

 

New program

In its other pet-related action on Monday, the council scheduled a budget amendment hearing for Nov. 12 on the “Trap, Spay, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return to the Streets” plan that was pitched by Youngerman.

The plan is to transfer $1,500 from allocated capital sales tax in the highway lighting project to general fund expenditures for trap/spay/neuter/return program.

In a report to the council, Youngerman said feral cats are “running rampant” in the town.  Since taking over as animal control officer, Youngerman said he’s trapped 296 cats and kittens, and in just about all cases, he’s found local farmers to take them.

But with those cats having multiplied and the same farmers begging for mercy, Youngerman has been left with no choice other than euthanization.  So far, 23 have met their demise in that fashion, depleting his veterinary budget in the process.

In describing the new program, Youngerman said he’d trap the feral cats, take them to a local vet for a spay/neuter (Dr. Gotfredson said he’d charge $10 for males, $12 for females) and then return them to the location where they were originally trapped.