Dealing with pet peeves

An ordinance amendment that expands city rules on animals is currently being considered by the City Council of Webster City.

The amendment, which increases city ordinance language on animals from a couple pages to six has been in the works for about eight or nine months according to City Manager Ed Sadler. The proposed amendment addresses a variety of issues. Sadler said those issues relate to complaints the city has heard in the past.

“We tried to address the things we mainly get phone calls about,” Sadler said. “It’s on both sides of the spectrum. It’s not only what people may consider ill-behaved animals. It was as much animals not being treated well. We tried to take both sides in this ordinance. We talk about protecting the animals and protecting peoples’ rights to property and everything else.”

In addition to nuisance animals and animal cruelty and harassment, the ordinance also places some restrictions and bans. Under current ordinance language, Webster City residents will not be able to own more than four dogs or four cats at one time. People would also be limited to a total combination of six cats and dogs at one time. Those who currently own more than that will be allowed to keep their animals.

Sadler said language in the proposed amendment was borrowed from 15 towns of similar size. For instance, he said one town had a limit of three cats, three dogs or a combination of the four. He said there was “nothing special” about the limit number for Webster City aside from it being less restrictive.

“The council wants to change it to five, but I think there needs to be a number,” Sadler said.

Dr. Richard Stribe, of the Webster City Veterinary Clinic, also thinks the city is in need of a limit number. He said situations where people become hoarders of animals create bad situations for the owners and animals and this proposed ordinance would also allow law enforcement to remedy those kinds of problems.

“I think a law that will limit the number of animals they can have will actually help both the people themselves and law enforcement to give them some guidelines so we can prevent situations that just aren’t healthy for anyone,” Stribe said.

The proposed restrictions and bans have been met with criticism. Mike Wiemann, owner of Critter Nation in Webster City, said some of his customers have voiced their displeasure with the ownership limits on cats and dogs.

“I think the numbers are pretty fair, but I know there are going to be some issues with a lot of people that love animals,” Wiemann said.

The pet store owner’s main issue with the ordinance is language that bans people from owning any venomous or constricting snakes in the city. Several other animals have also been banned. That list includes wolves, alligators and lynx among others. Wiemann said almost all snakes either use venom or constriction to kill prey. While Wiemann doesn’t sell any venomous snakes, he said smaller constricting snakes that he sells are not a danger to people if they are treated well.

“To me, a ball python, a corn snake, a king snake, the bright-colored, non-aggressive, small breed snakes are not something that needs to be prohibited. There’s little to no risk of injury or death of any kind,” Wiemann said.

Those with animals that would be banned under the amendment can keep them if they are registered with the Webster City Police Department.

Currently, Wiemann said he’s not sure if he’ll be able to continue selling these snakes. He plans to talk to the City Council about it at their next meeting on Monday. Mayor Doug Getter said they are looking for community feedback on the ordinance. Sadler said the ordinance amendment has already been altered after he talked about requirements for rabies vaccines with Stribe.

If the amendment passes as it currently reads, every dog and cat owner will have to obtain a rabies vaccination for each animal between four and six months of age. Dogs must also wear collars or harnesses with rabies tags. The rabies ordinance was set to apply to horses as well. However, Stribe told Sadler that horses were at little risk of contracting or transmitting the disease. That rule would also be more strict than those at the Iowa State Fair, which does not require horses to have the vaccine according to Stribe.

“Horses, by their nature, are larger animals and since they’re corralled or penned up most of the time they simply don’t have the same exposure to people.” Stribe said. “So, I guess I didn’t feel it was fair for us to have a more stringent requirement to attend the county fair than the state fair.”

Sadler said the rule was removed for horses after their discussion.

From Sadler’s perspective as a city manager, passing the ordinance is an important step to give local law enforcement ways to deal with several issues. This winter, he said the Webster City Police Department received many calls about people leaving their dogs out all night. While the amendment addresses this, Sadler said it’s not a “one size fits all” solution. He said some communities have a limit on the temperature that it’s acceptable to leave a dog outside.

“I don’t own a chihuahua. I own this big, hairy monster that’s a Newfoundland,” Sadler said. “There is no one size. We talk about it being appropriate for the breed. It’s common sense.”

Other amendment language also allows law enforcement to remedy situations where an animal is being kept in unsanitary conditions and to humanely trap small animals running at large. Sadler said that while the ordinance gives law enforcement the ability to deal with situations that have resulted in complaints, it doesn’t mean that enforcement is going to be steeply ramped up.

“We’re not doing house to house searches,” Sadler said.

The City Council is set to hold the second reading of the ordinance amendment on Monday at 5:15 p.m. in their chambers at City Hall.