Fort Smith pet panel reviews draft ordinance

Read the original article by Jadyn Watson-Fisher at here.

Fort Smith could have a new pet microchipping ordinance in the coming months, which the city’s Animal Services Advisory Board believes will help enforce its current laws.

The board went over a rough draft at its Monday night meeting of how it would want an official ordinance to read.

Due to the differences in research and what other cities have done, there has been confusion as to what the board was trying to accomplish. With the ordinance draft, the board effectively made its recommendation to present an animal microchipping registration.

Board veterinarian Nicole Morton presented a draft for an incentivized microchip registration. There would be two primary types of licenses, A and B.

The A license would be for an unaltered animal and is considered a business license, according to the draft presented. Animals with this license may have one litter in a 12-month period. The cost of an A license would be at least $500, but it would still require the pet to be microchipped in order to identify the animal, and the registration must be renewed every year. All unaltered animals would need a separate license.

If an unaltered animal is found, and it does not have an A license, the owner would have 45 days to obtain one. If the owner fails to purchase a license, he or she will be fined $500 to be paid within 15 days. Owners who do not pay the citation within the 15 day period will be charged with a misdemeanor and prosecuted. Current law already allows for those in violation of any city code, including current animal control codes, to be fined and charged with a misdemeanor.

B licenses would be valid one year, but the board discussed the possibility of a three-year registration. Many other cities have the one- or three-year option, and it could allow owners to schedule it for when rabies vaccinations are due. These would be $10 for each altered animal.

While other cities, such as Greenwood, require animals to be licensed and wear a tag, the board said the microchip would replace the tag, because it can’t get lost or be easily removed. The draft says animals 4 months and older would need a microchip, and the board said B licenses would require an animal to be spayed or neutered by 6 months.

All microchips, no matter the license “status” would be required to have current information, and animal control must be notified if ownership of an animal changes.

“All animals need to be able to be returned home,” Morton said.

The board said registering the pets should be easy. It hopes to allow citizens to bring an signed city-approved document from a vet, shelter or approved agency proving the animal has its vaccinations, is altered — or is not, depending on the license purchased — and providing microchip information to the official place of registration. This would be entered into a city-run database, allowing animal control officers to scan the chip and do a search to see where it belongs.

As of right now, there is no projected location for registration. The board hopes this could be done at the city offices where residents handle other services, such as utilities, at the police station or have an animal control officer at the Humane Society.

The board said there must be a city official of some capacity who would be able to enforce the code and give citations. The hope is that as the ordinance begins to gain traction, it would produce enough revenue for the city to hire more animal control officers to patrol and handle administrative duties. ASAB Vice Chairman Brandon Weeks said the suggestions won’t work unless the city is active in its enforcement.

Weeks suggested having animal control headquarters at the Humane Society, maybe not immediately, but as something to work toward. This would easily allow the city to have someone at the shelter to write citations and make sure the money collected is going to Fort Smith. Residents picking up their animals at the shelter usually pay a fee, but it does not go to the city.

All funds raised from the registration would go to a city bank account, the board proposed. It would suggest that all money be put back toward animal services in the city. Morton noted again, this could allow for the hiring of additional animal control officers.

Fort Smith has dealt with overpopulation for many years and has been looking for solutions since the formation of a temporary animal services task force in 2011. The board agreed the problem “didn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t going to be fixed overnight.” It is still working through questions, like defining exemptions — what is considered a service dog? — or nailing down exactly how and where the registration and enforcement process would likely work from start to finish.

Board member Sam Terry said the board is trying to make the process simple for residents and revenue building for the city. While it might take some adjustments at first, he and the rest of the board believe it will help take a tax burden off the citizens of Fort Smith and reduce the animal population.

The Humane Society had more than 700 animals on site at the end of August, and has reduced that to around 400 to 450 due to recent transports. It’s still too much, though, the Humane Society has said. Animal control continually brings in animals, and the shelter has taken to posting animals on its Facebook page in hopes of the owners seeing them.

“When you have surplus, and you want to decrease (it), you have to stop producing. To stop pet overpopulation, production must be decreased,” Morton said. “Puppies and kittens don’t just fall out of the sky, they come from unaltered animals that often become homeless animals.”

The original proposals indicated there could be a free or low-cost altering and microchip registration for residents living in the “hot zone” of 72901 for one year. This is still something the board wants to implement.

There were questions about animals that were identified and unaltered but without an A license. The board said it would like to see the owners be contacted to pay the fee for the license or an alteration procedure. Weeks said most people would rather pay $50 or $60 for a sterilization than the $500 unaltered license, which allows the shelter to alter more pets and reduce the possibility for more animals.

If an animal that gets out is chipped and altered, it would be returned home and the owner would pay any associated fines.

Morton said the proposals, if they are implemented and enforced, will prevent unwanted animals being born and ending up in the shelter, provide financial gain for the city, and there won’t be animals roaming the streets causing hazards or other nuisances.

“It’s an ethical solution that will have a long-term effect,” Morton said.

The board is sending its recommendations to City Administrator Carl Geffken for the city attorney to begin an official ordinance draft, and it will meet Nov. 14 in an attempt to finalize any definitions and logistical questions.

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