Petition tries to lift ordinance limits on pets

Saturday, August 21, 2004

For the first time in 14 years, residents of Cape Girardeau have found a local issue that is important enough to petition for change.

A group of pet owners is petitioning the city council to lift its restrictions on the number of pets allowed per household. The petition asks that the council reconsider the section of a new ordinance that limits the number of pets a person can own to no more than four cats and four dogs.

Since the petition is the first for the city in 14 years, the issue means some lessons in how the city's charter government works, said Gayle Conrad, city clerk.

The city's charter requires that a referendum petition collect 2,349 signatures from registered voters in the city before the petition can be certified. The signatures must be collected before Sept. 11, though organizers hope to have enough to present the petition at the Sept. 7 council meeting.

The council approved a revised pet ordinance that set new limits on pets. The measure took effect Aug. 12.

A previous city ordinance allowed residents to have an unlimited number of animals as long as they had no more than four cats or four dogs that were neither neutered or spayed.

"We're not opposed to the change in the ordinance, but we feel like there is a means of animal control that's not in limiting the numbers," said Lisa Foster, one of the petition organizers.

David Roth, president of the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri's board of directors, said by not differentiating between altered and unaltered pets, the new ordinance does nothing to encourage people to have their pets spayed or neutered. "People are unaware of the pet population problem," he said.

In July, the council unanimously approved the pet ordinance changes despite the fact that several residents and the Humane Society's director spoke in opposition to the changes.

The council pushed for the change as a way to control nuisance animals after it received several complaints from residents about aggressive dogs running loose in their neighborhood.

But with an ordinance that includes fines and was properly enforced, there wouldn't be a need to have a limit on pets, Foster said.

Jean Hermsdorfer said the issue isn't a quantity matter but a quality one.

"My perception is that there is a definite problem in Cape Girardeau with aggressive dogs and with dogs that roam loose." Yet limiting the number of dogs a person can own doesn't address that problem or make the owners of the aggressive or roaming dogs any more responsible, she said.

Foster believes there are a number of residents who are good pet owners that are in violation of the new ordinance. However, the ordinance did include a grandfather clause for pet owners who have more than four cats or four dogs that were licensed by the city before the ordinance took effect.

"What we'd like to see is some enforcement of ordinances that are on the books and some changes in those ordinances," Foster said.

Registered voters who want to sign the petition can contact Foster or Kimberly Necas at 339-1414.

335-6611, extension 126

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