Back to the drawing board

A proposed animal protection and control ordinance amendment has been sent back to the drawing board following a meeting of the City Council of Webster City.

On Monday night, the council voted unanimously to not approve the second reading of the ordinance changes, which were first suggested about 10 months ago according to Webster City Mayor Doug Getter, after a couple community members voiced their concerns.

Mike Wiemann, owner of Critter Nation, was the first community member to speak during the reading. He said many of his issues with the proposed amendment came from how it was worded. That included how many animals a household would be limited to.

Under the proposed amendment language, no household would be allowed to own more than four dogs, four cats or a combination of any six animals of any nature. While Wiemann said he didn’t personally have a problem with that number if it was just for dogs and cats, he could see why others would take issue with it.

“I don’t know why there’s got to be a number,” Wiemann said. “Those can say what they want about who can take care of how many animals, but I don’t think a number should be addressed to everybody.”

Wiemann also discussed amendment language that could affect his business. That included a ban on all constricting or venomous snakes which he said includes all snakes. He said size limitations could be looked at rather than banning all constricting snakes. The amendment language also doesn’t address if he could continue to sell snakes or if he could sell them to people outside of Webster City.

He also addressed language on banning businesses giving away pets as awards or promotions, among other items. While Wiemann had many issues with the proposed amendment, he said he would like to be involved in the process to clarify the amendment language.

Another community member, Angela Rottering, also spoke to the council. Rottering said she and her husband own four cats and have brought her closer to other community members. She said she took in two abandoned cats, which would not be allowed under the ordinance amendment. She also was opposed to amendment language that would require cats to wear collars and would not allow people to feed animals that are not their own.

“I understand that our police department needs some kind of guideline for the people that are not good citizens, that are not taking care of their animals, but the ones that are obeying the laws and taking care of the animals, some of this is pretty harsh,” Rottering said.

City Attorney Gary Groves later echoed that sentiment when he said the amendment was created to deal with the abuse of a small number of pet owners in the city.

Webster City Police Chief Brian Hughes also presented several concerns he had with the amendment. Hughes said he was in favor of placing a limit on the number of animals in one household. However, he said the amendment language did not give his department a way to enforce that restriction. His recommendation is that all provisions of the ordinance be enforceable by citation. Currently, Hughes said officers have to submit all charges and paperwork to the county attorney’s office. Citations would reduce the time officers spend on these calls.

After hearing from community members, Councilman Geary Meyer suggested that the council revise and rediscuss changes to the animal protection and control ordinance. Councilman Logan Welch said he thought concerns about the number of animals in one household could be covered by other parts of the ordinance including language on cruelty to animals, animal nuisances and unsanitary conditions. Welch also said he didn’t want to pass an ordinance that would negatively impact a local small business.

“I don’t want that to be another piece of red tape that small businesses face in this community,” Welch said.

Still, Welch and other council members said having portions of the proposed ordinance amendment on the books is important. Hughes said he’s seen situations where dogs were kept outside in frigid, unsafe conditions this winter, or where his department has been unable to deal with dog complaints because the officers have nowhere to take them.

After the council voted down the second reading of the proposed amendment, Getter said the next steps the council should take would be to address the realities in the community that respect pet owners and businesses but also citizens that have a right to peace and quiet. Groves suggested that he, a council member, Wiemann, Rottering, Hughes and a representative of the Webster City Veterinary Clinic come together to start a discussion on how to change the amendment. Getter agreed with Groves.

In other business, the council set several public hearings for future meetings. For their next meeting on April 7, the council will hold a hearing on the continuation of the City-Wide Urban Revitalization Plan for residential tax abatement on April 7 at 5:45 p.m., a hearing on tobacco violations on April 7 at 5:50 p.m. and a hearing on proposed maps and specifications and proposed form of contract for the 2014 Water Distribution Improvement Project on April 21 at 5:30 p.m.