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New animal control laws proposed

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GREENFIELD — Barking dogs, unneutered pets and dangerous animals are becoming the target of possible new laws for residents in unincorporated parts of the county.

Jeff Leffel, director of Greenfield-Hancock Animal Management, is proposing a mandatory spay and neuter law with an exception for breeders; a law against nuisance barking; and a law against dangerous animals.

Hancock County Commissioners, however, say they are a long way from deciding on the list of issues he presented.

Leffel said he would like the entire county – including residents of cities and towns – to be included in the commissioners’ animal control ordinances.

“They don’t have authority to do that,” county attorney Ray Richardson told him.

Richardson said while there are some instances – like the countywide smoking ban – where commissioners can mandate the behavior of city residents, for the most part the county commissioners can only set ordinances over unincorporated residents.

Still, Leffel said the ideas are worth considering.

He said he’s been begged by animal rescue groups to advocate for a mandatory spay and neuter law. His proposal requires each dog or cat over the age of 6 months to be sterilized. If not, they could be subject to a $100 fine.

The law would be enforced mostly by fining owners of animals that are picked up, much in the same way the rabies vaccine law is enforced.

“We’re not going to go out hunting animals down, knocking on doors,” Leffel said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with controlling people or their animals. A lot of objection is from men not wanting to do that to their male dog ... (If they are not sterilized), you end up with dog fights, dog bites and a lot of puppies.”

The proposal allows people who breed animals to get permits, but failure to register as a breeder would also result in a fine.

Leffel’s proposal also suggests a law against people who live in residential areas, subdivisions or apartment complexes from keeping a pet that creates a nuisance with “loud, frequent or habitual barking, howling or yelping.” Fines could be levied at $50, or up to $100 for repeat offenders.

“We seem ineffective to people who call us,” Leffel said about calls on barking dogs. “They say, ‘What are you good for, why do I pay my taxes?’”

Pets deemed dangerous must also be kept fenced with a locked gate, according to Leffel’s proposal.

Currently, animal management has jurisdiction to confiscate a wandering dog or cat in unincorporated areas of Hancock County. Leffel’s proposal updates the animal at-large law, by not restricting the animals to just dogs or cats. He said sometimes other animals, such as horses, wander throughout the county.

Commissioners asked Richardson to write Leffel’s proposal into a formal ordinance for consideration. Commissioner Brad Armstrong said it’s hard to both take care of animals and citizens in the county, while at the same time not allowing county government to overstep its bounds.

He says he’s not yet sold on the idea of a mandatory spay and neuter law.

“That seems like a pretty big step for government to be doing,” Armstrong said. “We can probably tweak what we’ve got rather than come out a with a big, new comprehensive (ordinance).”

Armstrong said Leffel’s proposal is at a very early stage.

Animal control laws, he said, are very personal to constituents. Nuisance barking is not a problem, for example, until residents are directly affected by it.

“It’s not a big problem at all until the dog is next to your house and you’re trying to sleep,” Armstrong said.

Commissioners President Tom Stevens said he wants to take time to review the proposal before coming to any conclusions.

“I agree, everything they do is for the protection of the public, so it’s something that we definitely need to look at,” Stevens said. “I don’t know if it’ll end up in the form that he presented ... We will probably discuss it at a later date and introduce it (as an ordinance), and give the public a chance to react… I’m very interested in what the public has to say about this issue.”

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