The Rapidian

Pet ownership limit law proposes wrong answer

Grand Rapids would be better served to pass a comprehensive set of animal care and control regulations that would give animal control officers and law enforcement the tools necessary to appropriately prosecute those that fail to provide proper care for the animals in their possession.

When faced with tragic situations such as animal hoarding cases like the one recently in the Creston neighborhood, it is a natural reaction to consider an ordinance that would try to prevent the situation from happening again. However, it is best to avoid panic lawmaking. Pet ownership limits interfere with property rights of responsible pet owners, are regressive and ineffective. The bottom line is this; good, strong nuisance provisions do work when properly enforced.

Pet limit laws are arbitrary, and no matter how many animals are chosen as the allowable amount, an intended deterrent law such as this would do nothing to prevent a repeat of a hoarding case. Animal hoarding is a well-documented psychological compulsion recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Anyone intent on obtaining too many animals will do it, no matter the law.

Ownership limits ultimately punish good, responsible pet owners from adding more animals to their homes (something we should, as a community, be encouraging to save more lives from the Kent County shelter!). The legality of such limits is also a murky issue. In one state (Pennsylvania Commonwealth v. Creighton, PA. Cmwlth., 639 A.2d 1296 (1994)), it was actually declared unconstitutional to limit the number of pets one individual could own.

These ordinances fail to enhance public safety and are a waste of tax dollars. Again, an arbitrary number of pets limited in a home cannot determine a pet owner’s level of responsibility to provide an appropriate standard of care. Grand Rapids would be better served to pass a comprehensive set of animal care and control regulations that would give animal control officers and law enforcement the tools necessary to appropriately prosecute those that fail to provide proper care for the animals in their possession.

There are other cities around the country that have successfully enacted thorough responsible pet ownership laws in the interest of increased public safety. Our neighbors in South Bend, Indiana recently passed a very thorough overhaul of their animal care and control regulations – it will go into effect on August 1. Here are just a few of the very progressive points:

  • Dog breeding related activities have new rules of oversight and greater regulation
  • Strengthens the ability to enforce, and repeat offenders are more severely punishable
  • Any pets caught running at-large more than once must be spayed or neutered
  • Does away with pet limits entirely for those owners whose pets are fixed. A three pet limit is still in place for owners who do not fix their pets
  • Any residents with altered and vaccinated pets will pay reduced licensing fees
  • Promotes and gives clear guidelines for the practice of TNR (trap, neuter and return) for a method of controlling the free-roaming cat population
  • Clearly outlines the responsibilities for humane, responsible pet ownership, and the penalties for not complying

Grand Rapids can and should consider a similar set of safe and humane animal care and control regulations.

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