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Overview of Municipal Ordinances

Charlotte Walden


Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
2012
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Overview of Municipal Ordinances

Welcome to the Ordinance Section of the Animal Legal & Historical Center. Here you can find full codes from several cities and counties relating to animals, as well as specific sections relating to a particular topic in animal law (e.g. Breed Specific Legislation, Mandatory Spay/Neuter laws, etc.). While our collection does not capture every code from every city, town or county across the United States, we have tried to collect a representative sample of ordinances relating to animals. If you do not find a specific animal ordinance for a municipality or county on this website, you can contact the municipality or county of interest for more information.

How Can I Find Ordinances On This Site?

On your left, you will see a navigation pane with several drop-down boxes.  From there, you can find ordinances in one of three ways:

  1. Either by selecting a specific state from the drop down box entitled “Local Ordinances” under the “Select by State” option or
  2. By selecting a subject from the drop down box entitled “Local Ordinances” under the “Select by Subject” option or
  3. By using the search box located at the top of the navigation pane.

What Are Ordinances?

Ordinances are simply laws passed by local, or municipal, governments.  As the Federal and State government have a constitution that authorizes certain power to certain government officials, municipalities and counties have a charter that does the same. The charter, then, like a State or the Federal constitution, will outline how municipalities or counties must enact their laws.  Regardless of how much authority a charter grants a municipality or county to establish laws, local units of government usually have a broad right to enact ordinances relating to the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. This is known as police power and animal control and care is considered within this realm.

What Animal Related Topics Do Ordinances Cover?

When you look through the animal section of an ordinance, you will typically find the following topics:

  • The leashing, tethering, sale, and transportation of dogs,
  • Dog defecation in public and private places,
  • Prohibitions against dogs who excessively bark and howl,
  • Restrictions on the number of dogs and cats a person can own,
  • Prohibitions on wild and exotic animals,
  • Dangerous dog/animal requirements and/or prohibitions,
  • Registration and vaccination requirements for dogs and cats,
  • Animal control/ enforcement proceedings,
  • Prohibitions on feeding feral cats,
  • Animal cruelty,
  • Impounding and retrieving impounded animals, including notice requirements and fees,
  • Poisoning and trapping animals,
  • Dogs in heat,
  • Euthanasia proceedings,
  • Restrictions on dogs being allowed into public places,
  • Procedures to instigate a hearing,
  • Penalties for violating the provisions of the ordinance.

While the above provides some of the topics you might find in a municipality or county’s ordinance, it is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Indeed, each ordinance is different in terms of its structure and content. For instance, some municipalities may deal with only one or two topics (e.g. the control of stray animals and the leashing of dogs), while others may cover the entire list above. If you are interested in enacting a law in your municipality or county, the following section will give you a general overview on how this is done. 

How Do Ordinances Get Passed?

Whenever a citizen believes that a certain problem would best be resolved by a law, the citizen may approach a city or county council member with a proposed ordinance. If the council member is sympathetic towards the citizen’s cause, the member will introduce the proposed legislation to the rest of the council. From there, the city or county will hold a public meeting to discuss adopting or amending the proposed legislation. After the public meeting has commenced, the council will put the proposed law to a vote; if the law passes, it will be binding upon those who are within the specific city’s or county’s limits.

What Are Some Controversial Topics Found In Ordinances?

Yet, while some people may find a problem requires a law, others may not feel the same. This difference in opinion is what makes certain laws so controversial. The following are examples of some of the controversial animal ordinances that you will find on this website:

  • The West Hollywood, California declaw ban. This ban was enacted due to the perception that declawed cats were more likely to be discarded than non-declawed cats. However, some argue that declaw bans lead to more cats being discarded and that declaw bans adversely affect human health (i.e. there will be more instances of infections due to scratches).
  • The West Hollywood, California fur ban. This ban was enacted due to the perception that killing animals purely for fashion is wrong. However, some felt that this ban singled out certain industries, as there were no bans on other animal fashion products, such as leather and hide. When this ban was enacted, many stores that sold fur in West Hollywood threatened to take their businesses elsewhere.
  • Mandatory Spay and Neuter (MSN) laws, such as those found in Fort Worth, Texas, and Los Angeles County. These mandates were enacted due to the perception that MSN would reduce shelter intake and the subsequent euthanizing of unwanted dogs and cats. However, some argue that MSN is a drastic overreach of government power and that it does not prevent what it was enacted for.
  • Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). Many municipalities have banned certain breeds of dogs due to the perception that these dogs pose a greater risk to the public than other breeds. Thus, with BSL, municipalities hoped to reduce the number of dog attacks within their jurisdiction. However, some people argue that it is not sound policy to assume an individual dog poses a hazard to the public just because it happens to be a certain breed.

What Is An Example Of A Model Ordinance?

Not all ordinances are created the same, which means that some ordinances provide better models than others. A good or “model” animal control ordinance should include a definitional section that clearly defines the words used in the law. Definitional sections, like the ones found in the Phoenix, Arizona and the Los Angeles County ordinances, are important to ordinances because they provide boundaries to what the law covers. Along with a definitional section, an ordinance should also contain a section on who is authorized to enforce the terms of the ordinance. For without defining certain terms, those who are authorized to enforce the ordinance lack guidance as to which animals and people are regulated under the local law.

In addition to definitions and sections describing who is authorized to enforce the ordinance, “model” codes should also carefully laid out penalties for violations, as well as  group laws that relate together into separate sections (e.g., pet licensing or dangerous animals). These sections should reflect the particular concerns of a community whether they relate to large feral cat populations or measures to regulate commercial breeders. Finally, because animal control often involves seizure of animals found in violation of the code, the owner or keeper should be given an opportunity to contest the seizure. This should also be described in language that is easily understood by the general public. San Mateo, California provides an example of an ordinance that provides an animal owner with the opportunity to contest a violation.


 

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