By BILL SHEA
A major revision of laws governing dogs, cats and even ferrets in Fort Dodge won preliminary approval from the City Council Monday despite a barrage of questions and complaints from pet owners.
Joyce Aljets, a financial support specialist in the Fort Dodge city clerk’s office, displays a variety of pet license tags issued by the local government in the past. The fee for obtaining such licenses has remained $2 since the 1970s. Those fees would go up under a revision of the animal control laws before the City Council. For example, the owner would pay $6 for the annual license of an animal that has been spayed or neutered.
The proposal, which was publicly introduced in May, advanced on a 4-2 vote.
Councilmen Dean Hill, Robert ''Barney'' Patterson, Mark Taylor and Don Wilson, who participated in the meeting by telephone, voted yes.
Councilmen Kim Alstott and Andy Fritz voted no.
New FD pet license fees
- Animal that has not been spayed or neutered - $15
- Animal that has been spayed or neutered - $6
- Animal classified as dangerous - $30
- Assistance animals such as seeing eye dogs - No fee
- Senior owner (age 65 and older) - 50 percent discount for one neutered or spayed animal
Councilman Dave Flattery was absent.
''I don't like it at all,'' Fritz said after the council meeting. ''To limit and penalize law-abiding animal owners for the few out there that are not doing things right I think is wrong.''
He added that he doesn't believe there are enough dog bite incidents in the city to warrant the new proposal.
Alstott said he doesn't like the requirement that dog leashes be a maximum of 6 feet long. He said he also opposes the provision that requires dog owners to restrain their pets even on their own property.
''My goodness, we have so many regulations it's ridiculous,'' he said.
Key features of the revised animal control law include:
- Updated license fees.
- Maximum length of 6 feet for a dog's leash.
- Requires animals on their owner's property to be restrained by leash, chain or invisible fence.
- Requires dog owners to make reasonable attempt to clean up the animal's waste.
- Sets maximum number of pets a person can own at six, with a maximum of three dogs.
- Defines a dangerous animal as one that has bitten or aggressively attacked without provocation.
- Defines a vicious animal as one that has already been declared vicious which has again bitten a person or domestic animal without provocation.
- Makes it illegal to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes when the outdoor temperature is higher than 75 degrees.
Many of those requirements were questioned by members of the public before the council voted.
''We are very concerned that this ordinance, while it could reduce nuisance issues, could hinder law-abiding pet owners and pet businesses,'' said Mary Ann Haas, a dog owner from Fort Dodge.
She estimated that 50 percent of dog owners have flexible leashes that can extend more than 6 feet.
She also questioned the proposed limit on the number of pets that would be allowed in a household.
''What are you trying to accomplish with this?" she asked
She raised the possible scenario of an engaged couple in which both the man and the woman owed two dogs and asked if they would have to get rid of a dog after they got married.
Assistant Police Chief Kevin Doty said the limit on the number of pets was reached after studying animal control laws from Clinton and Des Moines. Regarding the hypothetical engaged couple with two dogs he said ''I think that's something you just have to work through.''
Haas said it appeared to her that the proposal would prohibit a dog breeder in the city from taking back a puppy that had previously been adopted out.
That's not true, Doty said.
Haas also asked why senior citizens would get a reduced rate for just one pet license.
Doty said the discount is a ''good way to give the seniors a break on that first pet license.'' He said if the individual has more than one pet they can probably afford to pay the full price for the additional licenses.
Haas also asked how city officials intend to enforce the proposal since there's just one animal control officer for all of Webster County and he is, in her opinion, ''somewhat inaccessible.''
Doty said the animal control officer can always be reached by calling the Webster County dispatch center. He said all calls for that officer are to go through that center so that the number of requests for his services can be tracked.
Police Chief Tim Carmody thanked pet owners for coming to the council meeting.
He said that not everyone will ever agree on all elements of the proposed animal law.
''Our differences are in inches and numbers,'' he said, referring to the 6-foot leash length and the maximum number of pets included in the proposal.
''We have to put some guidance in there,'' he added. ''We have to set lines somewhere in the rules.''
Carmody said ferrets were included in the proposal because veterinarians have said there are a surprisingly large number of them in the city.
The proposal must be approved two more times to become law.