New ideas for WC animal ordinance

From feeding feral cats to changing citations, the city council of Webster City discussed many facets of a previously proposed animal protection and control ordinance at a work session on Monday night.

All city council members and seven community members were in attendance for the work session that addressed portions of an ordinance which failed its second reading at a council meeting on March 17 after several people voiced concerns. At that meeting, the council decided to wait for feedback before drafting a new ordinance. Webster City Mayor Doug Getter said the goal of the meeting was to hear the concepts and ideas that those in attendance supported. No official vote was taken at the work session.

Zach Chizek, who is working in association with City Attorney Gary Groves, attended a previously held meeting of those community members who voiced concerns at the March 17 council meeting. He said their concerns included language which restricted the number of animals that could be owned in one household to four mature dogs, four mature cats or a combination of six animals of any nature. They also voiced concerns about restrictions on feeding animals, prohibiting types of snakes and spiders, and how pet owners would be cited under the ordinance.

Webster City resident Mark Dohms spoke before the council to relay his concerns about nearby feral cats. He said those cats have taken up residence in nearby unoccupied homes in the past and have been fed by neighbors. While he said those cats are gone now, they have killed wildlife in his garden and attacked a neighbor’s domestic cat in the past.

Monday’s work session included discussion of the ordinance from the perspective of the Webster City Police Department. Getter said that data provided by Webster City Police Chief Brian Hughes showed that over a five-year period, the department received about 2,400 calls related to animal control. Of those calls, Getter said 128 required further legal action. Getter said a new ordinance should include language that gives officers the ability to make on-the-spot decisions in these cases.

“From an enforcement perspective, the need to have some language that helps the department define what is an actionable case,” Getter said.

Webster City Police Officer Joel Delaney said it would be easier if he was able to ticket offenders of the animal ordinance on-scene after a complaint. Currently, Delaney said if he’s going to charge someone, he tells them that they will be charged and then writes a report because the case will probably go to court. If he was able to cite them with a ticket, the case would only go to court if the person charged took it to court. He said that process would be more efficient for their officers.

Getter suggested that the ordinance include language which would increase penalties for repeat offenders. Groves said increasing penalties would produce better results for the city. He said the city could charge people who break the ordinance with a municipal infraction. That charge would carry a $750 fee and a court visit.

“It doesn’t take long to understand that this is a pretty severe penalty,” Groves said.

Overall, Groves said the ordinance should need a minimal rewrite.

“We’ve got to take that kind of kinder, gentler approach to the concern of animals and their owners but make it clear that there are certain parameters here which we’ve got to enforce,” Groves said.

Welch proposed that the city continue to use the current animal protection and control ordinance but add language about feeding feral animals and add more options for police officers looking to issue citations. City Manager Ed Sadler said such an ordinance would not include language about requiring tags which would prove the ownership of an animal in the event of a complaint. Councilman Geary Meyer said that whatever the city decides to include in a rewrite of the ordinance, it should be kept simple.

“I’d say most people I’ve talked to felt it needs to be simple and we can’t micromanage the thing,” Meyer said. “I guess we’re going to need a lot of community understanding because I don’t know how we could possibly write an ordinance that’s going to make everybody happy. We can do a lot of due diligence, but somebody’s not going to be happy.”

In closing, Getter said the council will go back to the drawing board with the ordinance. He said the council will look at the many facets of local dog complaints, feral cats, the responsibility of those who feed feral animals, using identifying chips for cats, allowing officers to issue on-scene citations and the use of municipal infraction charges. Meyer said the council will also consider how the ordinance might affect local businesses.

No official date was set for the ordinance to be presented at a regular council meeting.