Animal Control Seeks Stronger Dog Ordinance

Shelter Goal to Prevent Dogs From Freezing


By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

HARRISON – At the January meeting of the Clare County Board of Commissioners, two representatives of the Clare County Animal Shelter addressed the Board regarding the safety and welfare of dogs held outside during severely cold weather.

Animal Control Director Rudi Hicks andAnimal Control Animal Control Officer Bob Dodson sought the Board’s support by rescinding the old ordinance for pet shelter and adopting a new one that Hicks and staff had written up.

“We’ve had a lot of trouble this year, when the temperatures dropped, with people who just absolutely will not take care of their animals,” Hicks said. “Specifically, we’re speaking of dogs right now, not livestock.”

She said people keep dogs in barrels with no straw and believe the animal will be fine.

“He’s not all right,” Hicks said. “The state law that our county kind of adopted, we fell under the state law that we go with is too vague. It simply says the dog has to be kept in a structure with three sides and bedding. It’s just not enough.”

Hicks said the desire was to rewrite the ordinance to be more specific and make it a county ordinance so it would “have a little more teeth.”

“So we can say, hey, you are going to have straw in this doghouse,” she said. “We’ll give you the straw. We’re driving around now with straw on our trucks which was donated by someone. We’re giving out the straw.”

Hicks described her department’s need as the ability to specifically say someone is in violation of the ordinance, and to insist the law be followed. She said her personnel are willing to provide straw, and to help find a doghouse if that person truly needs help getting one.

“But you’re not going to keep your dog in a box, basically,” she said. “And I’m not going to watch it freeze to death.”

Commissioner Leonard Strouse asked how the matter would be handled legally, and Hicks said that with an ordinance, a ticket could probably be issued.

“Right now we can’t,” Dodson said. “We would like it to be an ordinance where we can cite them, or maybe give them a warning the first time and say they have so many days to comply and then they will be cited for it.”

Hicks said that if the offender refused to comply, then charges of neglect would be filed.

“In all honesty, there are people who keep hounds in barrels stuffed full of straw,” Hicks said. “We’re not out to chase these people. If they’re taking care of their dogs, we’re fine. It’s the people that aren’t.

She then sited a local situation where a yellow Lab had been tied out with nothing but a box, which she believe would have died, but for Animal Control going out and packing the box full of straw.

At that point in the meeting, Administrator Tracy Byard reported she had spoken with the county’s attorney who said the county could not adopt the ordinance provided by Animal Control, because the county’s ordinance states it will go by state dog law. Byard said that when asked specifically if any other counties that have an ordinance as proposed, that the attorney had said no.

Hicks told the Board that Dodson’s research had turned up several cities and states which had gone to the stronger ordinance.

Board Vice Chairperson Jack Kleinhardt suggested a call to Sen. Judy Emmons, to see if she could look into introducing legislation that could put it on a state level to deal with state law.

In response to Kleinhardt saying he could not imagine anyone being so irresponsible in the care of their dogs, Hicks simply replied: “You should ride with us for a day. It’s tragic.”

She went on to describe one man in the southern part of the county who flat out refused the straw, and after his neighbor sneaked over and put straw in the doghouse, the man removed it.

“Then three days later at 1:15 in the morning I got a call to go over there because the dogs were crying,” Dodson said.

“They were freezing," Hicks said.

Dodson said the need for being able to ticket for negligent care is based on the urgency of the need. He said that having to go through prosecution requires a lot of time.

“It might take two or three months, and in the meantime that dog’s either died or has moved on,” Dodson said.

He suggested it would be more effective if a $75-$100 fine could be set, driving home the cost of noncompliance.

Dodson also noted that in Pennsylvania and animal cannot be outside for more than 30 minutes if the temperature is either 32 degrees or lower, or higher than 90 degrees.

Kleinhardt suggested Animal Control confer with the county’s attorney to explore the possibility of changing the ordinance at a county level, as well as inquiring with the state legislators about changing the state dog law. Hicks noted that statute had been enacted in 1919, and was not in step with current thinking or needs.

Chairperson Karen Lipovsky suggested getting the word out to all the other counties as well.

“They all must all have this problem,” Lipovsky said.

Dodson said he had spoken with three other shelters the previous day, and among them there had been some eight dogs which had frozen to death.

In a recent discussion, Hicks informed the Cleaver that contact had been made with the office of Sen. Judy Emmons.

“Judy Emmons’ office contacted me,” Hicks said. “We contacted everybody -- Bob actually sent an email to the president.  They called me back and said they’re interested in pursuing it, and said they would get back with me.”

Hicks said she learned there is not a single county around that doesn’t go by the state dog law.

“I was at a MAACO [Michgian Association of Animal Control Officers] meeting, and I brought it up,” Hicks said. “I said what do you guys do? They said if the dog dies you prosecute. They’re willing to let the dog die -- I’d rather seize the dog and let them get it back. At least I know it’s going to be warm.”

She went on to describe an incident near Clare where a dog owner knew state law. When Animal Control told him he needed to do something about his dogs, he replied that he was within the law, because he had a dog house and dry bedding.

“His dry bedding was a burlap bag,” Hicks said. “State law says ‘dry bedding’ but what’s dry bedding? Give me a definition, there is no definition.”

She went on to say the owner had been told, truthfully, that the TV news station was on its way, and there would be an interview done in front of his home. He protested, but Hicks insisted it would be on a public street and his treatment of  his dogs would be exposed.

“Or, I said, I can go get you a bale of straw and you can put it in the doghouse,” she said.

Hicks said the owner replied that he had straw, and she instructed him to get it into the doghouse

Shelter personnel are deeply committed to the welfare of animals, and that commitment continues to be played out in the effort to prevent dogs from freezing to death.