FD animal law passes

A controversial animal control law was approved by the Fort Dodge City Council Monday.

The new law limits the number number of dogs one can own, requires dogs be restrained on their owners’ property, and raises the animal license fee, among other things.

After much debate, the city council passed the ordinance 4-3. The ordinance has been discussed since May.

Council members Dean Hill, Mark Taylor, Don Wilson and Robert “Barney” Patterson voted yes; Dave Flattery, Andy Fritz and Kim Alstott voted no.

Eight Fort Dodge residents shared their concerns with the ordinance before the vote, while one spoke in favor of it.

Jim Hull said playing with his little dog Charlie is one of his favorite things to do. His primary concern was even though he can control his dog, he’s not allowed to let him run and play in the lawn.

“Now the city I love is going to tell me that Charlie and I and my wife can’t play out front?” he said.

Maybe instead of saying they can’t run at all, the law should say they can’t be out unattended, he said. He also suggested restrictions on bigger dogs but not smaller dogs.

“Under the law, pets are property,” said Nevin Conrad. “With this law in place you are trying to regulate personal property, a pet, on an individual’s private property. There’s a big difference between a leash law and restraining private property.”

He said that a judge in Pennsylvania struck down a similar law that limited people to five dogs.

“In the ordinance there are other things that deal with dogs, cats running loose, that deal with biting, so what’s the point of these limits? It seems like it’s already achieved in the other sections,” Conrad said.

Kevin McMannus said he’s been raising and showing dogs for 23 years.

“I have no problems with raising the fee, but let’s make it a reasonable fee,” he said. “In Ankeny, they have a $10 fee on their dogs whether they’re altered or unaltered.”

The new law would set spayed or neutered dog fees at $6, and $20 for an unaltered dog.

He said lawyers he knows who also are in the dog show business, “would love to get hold of this, and challenge every bit.

“He says, you just need to throw it all out and start over again,” McMannus said.

Liz Hawkins, a dog groomer, said the number of dogs to have was a very personal decision. She also worried about how the city would categorize or police kennels.

She also said dogs should be able to run free on their owner’s yard.

“If it can’t be loose on your own front lawn, give us a dog park before you pass this ordinance,” Hawkins said. “I think that would help.”

Jackie Johanson said she had spoken to three families who are now planning to move to Manson or Humboldt instead of Fort Dodge because of this ordinance.

“Will you double or triple the police force to enforce the law?” she said.

Tania Elliott spoke about the good that could come from the law. She told how her uncle’s dog was run over because he thought he could control it, but he couldn’t.

“It’s not about punishing people, it’s for the dog’s safety,” Elliott said.

She added that dogs don’t need to be chained up; an invisible fence would be sufficient.

Alstott said the law was an example of too much government control. He especially objected to the dog limit, and the requirement that they be restrained.

“This is hurting Fort Dodge. You’re taking responsibility from people,” he said. “I’ve had two people tell me they were thinking about moving into Fort Dodge, and they changed their mind because of this. Things are going good for Fort Dodge. Why do you have to wreck it?”

But Fort Dodge is not the only town that has similar animal ordinances, Wilson said.

“We’re not doing anything that any other town hasn’t done,” he said. “It isn’t the fact that this is the most perfect ordinance in the world, but it can be looked at, it can be amended. We’re going to get something on the books so that the police department has an option to do things.”

Taylor added, “This ordinance was made up from ordinances from several other cities that already have one. We had several people from well-established positions in town that know a lot about animals who put this thing together. This wasn’t just people in the dark throwing together draconian ways to stop people from moving to town.”

Fritz said having heavy fines for people whose dogs cause problems would be more effective than passing laws that affect everyone.

Flattery agreed.

“I think we’re penalizing the responsible pet owner, and I think the irresponsible pet owner is still going to violate whatever ordinance is out there,” he said. “To me, the penalty is more important than the ordinance.”

Police Chief Tim Carmody said people often think they have control of their dogs, but they don’t. He also said the police won’t be out on patrol looking for violations.

“Our process is not to go out and look at people sitting in their front yards or their back yards with their animals,” he said. “This will be complaint-driven like it is now.”

“Then why even have it?” Alstott asked.

“It’s there so if it is needed, it’s there, and you have something to go by,” said Patterson.

“We have that already,” Alstott said.

“It’s vague,” Patterson said.

Animal licenses still cost $2 per animal until the new fee schedule takes effect on Nov. 11. Pet owners with more than three dogs or cats must make sure all their animals are licensed within the next 30 days so that they can be grandfathered in and won’t be subjected to the new limits.