This overview discusses emerging areas of animal control for local governments. Mandatory spay and neutering, feral cat management, declawing, retail sales of pets, breeding licenses, and tethering laws are analyzed, including the strengths and weaknesses of each ordinance.
City or town codes are comprised of laws that are voted on and enacted by a municipal government. A municipal government, also known as a municipal corporation, is made up of elected city officials that provide local government and regulations to a particular population and area. The ordinances only apply within each city, town, or township limits. The municipal corporation receives the power to enact regulations from each state’s constitution and must hold the interests of the state’s constitution above the city’s interest. Local ordinances and regulations are concerned with addressing the public’s safety, health, and common welfare, typically called "police power."
This police power also covers animal regulation and welfare. Historically, animal control was mainly concerned with helping owners reclaim wandering livestock or protecting the public from loose dogs. Because of the growing interest in animal welfare that redefines animals as family instead of property, as well as the "No Kill Movement," there has been a slight shift from the concept of “protecting people from animals” to “protecting animals from people” at the local level. However, the main focus of municipal ordinances has always been and continues to be public health and welfare with less emphasis on animal welfare issues.
Most ordinances are concerned with licensing, vicious animals, noise provisions, wild animals, companion animal welfare, abuse and neglect, and role of local shelters and animal control officers. These topics are most commonly included in most municipal corporations' ordinances throughout the United States. Although ordinances may promote animal welfare as well as control, there is still one major issue with many communities. Municipal codes are only as good as the officials that enforce them. Thus, mandatory spay and neuter laws, leash laws, and breeder licensing laws, among others, require the proper authority to make sure these ordinances are being followed. Without enforcement, the regulations are ineffective and irrelevant. Enforcement of animal welfare ordinances is a very common problem that plagues many municipalities.
In addition to the issue of enforcement, the companion issue of owner compliance is also present. For instance, while mandatory spay and neuter laws attempt to solve the problem of pet overpopulation, the average spay or neuter procedure can range anywhere from $150 - $300. For many pet owners, access to affordable veterinary care makes complying with these ordinances difficult, especially during trying economic times. Statewide adoption of these ordinances coupled with proper enforcement, accessibility to affordable pet care, and community education would help ensure the success of many of these ordinances.
While control of animals is the typical emphasis, several cities and towns have started enacting more progressive ordinances that are more concerned with responsible pet ownership and animal welfare. New ordinance topics include provisions for feral cats, stricter breeding allowances, prohibitions on declawing, prohibition on sales of companion animals in retial stores, mandatory spay and neuter requirements, and responsible owner education.
There are four municipalities that provide a case-study of some of these more controversial issues of animal control. King County, Washington provides a good example of the implementation of a mandatory spay-neuter law. West Hollywood, California has enacted several progressive animal welfare ordinances, including those that prohibit the "declawing" of cats and the restrictions on the retail sale of pets. Stone Harbor, New Jersey has adopted a successful feral cat program and Tucson, Arizona addresses the danger of dog tethering. The overall focus of ordinances like these are to combat pet overpopulation, educate the public on how they can help their own animals, and to restore the human animal bond so that there are fewer animals being admitted to municipal shelters resulting in fewer animals euthanized. These unique regulations were created with the idea of not only promoting public safety, but also promoting animal welfare at the same time. Mandatory spay and neuter regulations have a lot of support in the U.S. and have shown positive impact on animal welfare in some instances. Feral cat regulation, usually through the process of trap-neuter-release programs (TNR), has proven to be very successful as well, not only controlling overpopulation, but ensuring health and care of the feral cats. The cruelty prevention ordinances of West Hollywood are fairly new and have yet to be fully appreciated through time and research. Anti-tethering laws are becoming more popular throughout the U.S. to reduce aggressive behavior in dogs, and many states have banned or limited animals being chained or tethered.
As each city’s ordinance is covered, there is a theme that emerges of balancing public safety and animal welfare. A municipality's main concerns always includes public safety, public health, and proper enforcement of its laws. The animal welfare community is primarily concerned with animal health and protection. By harmonizing these two view points, progressive regulations such as mandatory spay and neuter, feral cat regulation, cruelty prevention laws, and anti-tethering may begin to emerge and in more communities all over the U.S.