Going to the dogs (and cats)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

"Nuisance" laws are just what the name implies. There are laws to regulate public nuisances. There are laws that are effective only when someone complains of a nuisance. And there are laws that are a nuisance to those affected by regulations and limits.

A proposed Cape Girardeau ordinance that would limit the number of cats and dogs a city resident can have may be all three.

There are few topics in any municipality that are likely to generate more protests that official efforts to regulate pets.

From time to time, pet owners neglect their animals or have animals that offend neighbors. To deal with these situations, the city needs a good ordinance.

Currently -- and most pet owners probably weren't even aware of it -- there is a city ordinance that limits the number of dogs and cats a resident can have that haven't been spayed or neutered. The current ordinance allows four of each. The assumption is that anyone with more cats and dogs capable of reproducing is in the breeding business and is, therefore, operating a kennel.

The new ordinance, which received first-round approval last week and is scheduled for a final vote next week, limits the number of cats and dogs in each household to four of each, regardless of the pets' ability to produce more cats and dogs. Having additional dogs or cats would require a special-use permit and a business license.

The proposed ordinance has raised howls and growls of protest -- not from the pets but from some irate pet owners who don't like the idea of a city ordinance that limits the number of cuddly, furry animals you can have.

It is a sad fact that far too many so-called pets are allowed to reproduce at will. Each year, the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri's animal shelter must destroy thousands of unwanted animals. But there doesn't seem to be a workable way to prevent this problem.

So the city is attempting to address part of the animal-control problem. It is seeking stiffer guidelines for those occasions when complaints are received about pets. For most pet owners, the impact of the new ordinance will be exactly the same as the existing ordinance: none. Pet owners who are responsible and caring aren't likely to generate any complaints and, therefore, will have no more involvement with the new ordinance than the old one.

However, the city has, perhaps unwittingly, opened a window of opportunity for residents who might want to stock up on pets in excess of the proposed new limits. Anyone who owns more than four cats or dog before the new ordinance takes effect (Feb. 12, at the earliest) won't be covered by the new law.

It will be interesting to see how many pet owners involved in future complaints will claim they owned their pets before the new ordinance took effect.

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