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Animal licensing under review

Council hears concerns, puts ordinance change on study session agenda

by Tom Coombe

Amid questions at the council table and concerns raised by Ely residents, city officials will take more time to review proposed changes to the city’s animal ordinances.

Rather than pass a first reading of what was presented Tuesday, the council instead voted unanimously to discuss the ordinances further at its Aug. 29 study session.

The move came after three people addressed the council about the potential ramifications of the animal licensing and regulation ordinance, and with member Al Forsman saying he wasn’t prepared to support it as presented.

“I would prefer we discuss this at a study session,” said Forsman.

The ordinance changes stemmed from discussion earlier this year about city action related to dangerous dogs, according to police chief Chad Houde.

City attorney Kelly Klun concurred and said “the goal is not to add hardship on individuals.”

She also floated the idea of further review at a study session and said the presentation of the ordinances as written is the first step toward getting public response.

But those who addressed the council sounded alarms, contending that wording of the licensing and regulation ordinance could have unintended consequences and make things difficult for  pet owners, and put them in conflict with city law.

Wende Nelson told the council she supported much of the licensing and regulation ordinance, particularly the city “taking a proactive role in identifying dangerous dogs.”

Yet Nelson said that after reading the ordinance, “I have some concerns for other people I know,” and questioned the impact the rules might have on low-income owners of indoor-only pets.

She pointed to language requiring vaccination of all pets, including those who stay indoors.

“It seems to be that animals that are only inside aren’t the issue,” said Nelson. “Is it really necessary to require vaccination of indoor pets that never leave the home?”

Nelson also questioned the enforceability of the ordinance and was critical of rules requiring pets to be collared at all times, including in their homes.

“The overregulation of residents should be avoided,” said Nelson.

Frederica Musgrave took issue with numerous parts of the ordinance and said the city needs to do a better job of informing the public, suggesting the city go so far as send direct mailings to residents to notify them about the rules.

She also called for the city to soften language related to violations of the ordinance.

“To me it’s pretty scary when it says unlawful,” said Musgrave.

She added “I know there are a lot of people who don’t have licenses for their dogs and cats,” while noting “I’m not opposed to all cats and dogs being licensed.”

“To me it’s crucial that people are educated,” said Musgrave. “People need to know what they should do and shouldn’t do prior to sanctions.”

Plans for the city to allow for a “lifetime license” for dogs also drew concern.

“How is the city going to make certain that owners have vaccinated their pets against rabies?” asked Musgrave. “That to me is a major concern of a lifetime license.”

Also at issue was language that could sanction pet owners for trespassing.

“(Sometimes) my dog won’t stay on the sidewalk, if it does walk on someone’s grass I don’t want to be accused of trespassing,” said Musgrave. “I wish you would reword that differently.”

She also called for the city to require body cameras for animal control officers and law enforcement personnel - noting that her request that police wear body cameras extends beyond pet-related issues.

A third speaker, Megan Wind, said Ely “is one of the less dog-friendly cities I have been in.”

“There are very few public spaces where residents and visitors can bring their pets,” said Wind. “As a resident of Ely I strongly believe our city should be more pet friendly. By making our city more accommodating to dogs and other pets, we can improve quality of life for both dogs and pet owners.”

When city officials addressed the issues later in the meeting, Houde said many of the issues cited by the speakers are part of the existing ordinance, and not new items for consideration.

He pointed back to his own remarks about the issue during the winter, when he noted only 15 dogs were licensed in the entire city. That number has grown to just under 40, but that’s believed to be far lower than the actual number of dogs in town.

Houde had suggested the lifetime license as a way to boost compliance with the city’s dog licensing requirement.

The dog licensing measures are in place to track dogs and make it easier for police to reunite stray pets with their owners, according to Houde.

Forsman said he’d like to see more council direction on the matter.

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