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Devils Lake leaders to mull new pet laws

GRAND FORKS -- Devils Lake city leaders hope there won't be much growling Monday as they begin a public discussion on new laws that place more restrictions on pet owners.

"We really didn't have any teeth in the ordinance. People filed complaints. There were cases of four or five dogs sitting out in backyards, not getting proper food, water, shade, those kinds of things," said Fire Chief Jim Moe, a dog owner and chairman of a city committee that proposed the restrictions to city commissioners.

An effort in the fall to limit the number of pets per household was met with outrage, prompting the creation of the committee.

After four months of work, the committee will present its proposals to the City Commission for a first reading at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Here is a capsule version of the proposed restrictions:

- Cats running at large: Unleashed or unlicensed cats will be impounded for three days, plus other potential penalties.

- Animal care and treatment: The proposal outlines eight provisions dealing with feeding, caring for and treatment of pets.

- Number of allowable pets: The maximum number of pets, including any combination of cats and dogs, will be set at six. A "grandfather clause" allows anybody currently with more than six licensed pets to keep them. However, as the number decreases, an owner will not be able to replace them and keep the number above six without applying for a kennel license.

- Animal defecation: The proposal makes it illegal to fail to clean up after an animal when it defecates on other people's property.

- Three-strike penalties: A third offense within two years is a misdemeanor violation, punishable by law.

A second reading of the proposed restrictions is scheduled in May.

Moe said his committee reviewed complaints, compared pet laws in other cities and listened to suggestions from local residents before settling on its recommendations.

The City Commission originally proposed a two-dog limit last fall. That brought a storm of protest, including one local resident who attended a meeting with a poster adorned with pictures of his four dogs, posing the question: "Which 2 do we kill?"

The committee, which was organized after that meeting, initially discussed setting a lower limit -- perhaps as few as three -- on the number of pets per household.

However, that changed after Mayor Dick Johnson suggested in January that the committee concentrate on treatment of animals rather than on numbers.

"What we need is a way to make pet owners responsible," the mayor said at the time. "The person with one dog, if he or she is going to allow that thing to bark all the time, that's not responsible. Another pet owner may have three or more dogs and you'd never know they have any."

Local public health officials lobbied for a limit on the number of pets, according to Ida Miller, a retired Devils Lake resident who serves on the committee.

The owner of three dogs herself, she said the six-pet limit, in any combination of dogs or cats, was established after getting recommendations from other cities, as well as people who work in pet rescue agencies.

"They said they wouldn't place any with people with more than six pets, so we figured that was a good number," she said.