UG tries to rein in animal problems

Dog packs running loose in the community is one of the issues that will be addressed in an examination of animal control policies.

Shortage of space at the animal shelter and increasing the limits on pets allowed at residences are some of the other issues that may be addressed.

Police Capt. Michelle Angell of animal control said traps have been set recently in the Quindaro area for wild dogs, and four dogs were caught in the past week. Animal control has received complaints about dogs running loose, some in packs.

Not helping the situation is that the animal shelter is often full and sometimes unable to accept more dogs. Recently, Capt. Angell reported, the state has told the local shelter that it cannot double up dogs in kennels.

Animal control was the topic at a Unified Government Standing Committee meeting on Monday night. Commissioner Jane Philbrook asked representatives from animal control and a committee looking at the issues to address the commissioners.

The UG Standing Committee unanimously voted Monday to have a committee continue to look at this situation and come up with a final proposal to submit to the commission, including a budget recommendation and ordinance changes.

Capt. Angell told the commissioners that irresponsible pet owners and the pet population were the reasons animal control agencies exist. She described several improvements recently at the animal shelter, which opened in 1986, including renovations; a new surgical room and recovery room being set up; on-site veterinary services to spay and neuter; an isolation room; and new epoxy flooring for the kennel.  Some of the improvements were required by the state.

Numbers of animals were down at the animal shelter during 2013 because of a state requirement to allow more space for animals.

Capt. Angell also said officers found that warnings were not working, so the number of summons issued went up during 2013 from 1,119 to 2,137.  If the pet owner gets shots for the animal prior to the court date, the citations are dismissed and the owners just pay court costs, she said.

Among the ideas being discussed by the committee will be increasing the staff for animal control; allowing a larger number of pets per residence; more education; and changing language in ordinances to more clearly define animal abuse or neglect. The city currently has a leash law and a limit on the number of pets per residence. The group will look at different ways to deal with the cat population.

Katie Barnett, an attorney representing Professionals for a Humane and Safe Kansas City, a coalition of animal shelters, cited a recent citizen survey that ranked animal control as a high priority. This group has been talking with people in the community for about seven months about animal control and policies.

She said people are most concerned about stray dogs and dogs at large; public safety concerns about dangerous animals are breed-neutral; neglect; reducing the community cat population; and pet limits.

She also noted that some segments of the community want to increase outdoor walking trails, but that if residents are afraid to go outdoors because of stray dogs, no one would use the trails.

The committee may look at revising ordinances concerning the dangerous animal section; revising the definition of “proper care” to more definable terms; humane tethering guidelines; pet limits; and lower community cat population. She advocated repealing breed-specific language and implementing no tolerance for dangerous animals. She supported a trap, neuter and return policy for community cats.

Barnett also recommended formal training for animal control officers, and looking at changes to operations policies at the animal shelter.

In addition, she advocated an education program on living safely with dogs, humane care, and community outreach.

Barnett also said animal control was understaffed for a city this size.

Listed as additional resources and revenues through changes advocated by Barnett were increased licensing revenue from raising the pet limit; increased licensing revenue from allowing all breeds of dogs; increased revenues from online licensing and fee payments; resources and money saved from not seizing, impounding and euthanizing community cats; resources better allocated from targeting reckless owners and dangerous dogs, and not targeting breeds of dogs; a reduced number of animals impounded with revised policies and ordinance changes; an increased number of adoptions through the animal shelter; a free ride home for licensed and microchipped animals instead of impounding them; and increased penalties and citations for reckless owners.

Barnett listed expenditures from these proposed changes as unfreezing and funding three additional animal control officers who would patrol; increased impoundment of stray and feral dogs; formal education and training for animal control officers; new “adoption counselor” position; and updated equipment to increase efficiency.

The committee is expected to discuss “breed discrimination,” the idea that certain breeds such as pit bulls are naturally vicious and should be banned. Barnett said the current thinking is that animal behavior varies according to individual animals and not according to breed. Pit bulls are currently banned in Kansas City, Kan., and there is a movement to allow them, according to officials.

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