A closer look at South Bend's proposed pet ownership law


Laws governing pet ownership in South Bend could be tightened if a proposed ordinance passes before the Common Council in April. An estimated 67 percent of South bend residents own pets—which means any change in pet ownership legislation would affect the majority of households.

The process to change the law began in March 2013 when a committee was appointed to reexamine South Bend’s animal-related ordinance. The committee has met every month to rework the policy before formally filing its proposal last week.

Wednesday night the committee held its first public forum at IUSB.

Committee members in attendance included: South Bend Common Council member Valerie Schey, Council President, Oliver Davis, Pam Comer of Pet Refuge, Matt Harmon and Brad Block from South Bend Animal Care and Control, Pam Wesolowski from Michiana Feral Cat Initiative, Dr. Mariah Covey from Kryder Veterinary Clinic, and Becky Kaiser representing Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc.

According to Schey, the proposed ordinance is modeled after Fort Wayne’s “exceptional” animal care and control program.

Central to the new ordinance are spay/neuter specifications. If the proposal passes, any dog caught a second time running at-large would be brought to South Bend Animal Care and Control (SBACC) and sterilized.

“The reason why that policy is so important is because 70-76 percent of reported dog bites are from un-neutered males,” Schey explained the city needs to do a better job making sure these dogs are altered.

Individuals who own more than one unaltered dog would be required to obtain a special license. Council member Schey said the city has a “real crisis” when it comes to pet overpopulation—and the way to address the crisis is to have a “proactive” spay/neuter policy.

DANGEROUS

Another change would be the way in which SBACC determines “dangerous” dogs. Under the current ordinance dogs are determined dangerous by breed, like Pitbull, regardless of their behavior. The proposal calls for behavior testing and investigations into any instances of aggression or biting.

Brad Block is a senior officer for SBACC and is charged with enforcing South Bend’s pet ownership laws. Block said the current ordinance doesn’t allow officers to investigate incidents dealing with apparently “dangerous” breeds like Pitbulls, “if it’s a Pitbull, looks like a Pitbull, it’s automatically dangerous. That’s not fair to the dog.”

The proposal requires animal control officers to conduct ASPCA temperament testing, which includes testing for resource guarding, how it interacts with other dogs and cats.

TETHERING

Requirements for tethering animals are tightened under the proposed ordinance for public safety reasons. Pet owners cannot tether a dog if it has not been spayed/neutered. Pets cannot be tethered if the homeowner is gone, or if the tether extends beyond three feet from the property lines. Tethers cannot be tangled, too heavy or restrictive for the dog, and spayed/neutered dogs cannot be tethered outside between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

“It’ll prevent a lot of problems before they start,” Block explained.

The proposal also calls for a universal leash policy.

ENFORCEMENT

One of the problems animal control officers face with the current law is writing citations that will stand up against appeal. Block said the ordinance is so vague that most individuals that appeal have the citation thrown out.

With more precise language and definitions of terms like “neglect,” officers can gather evidence and present cases that hold up in accordance with the statue.

The proposal would also increase punitive measures for those who abuse and neglect their pets, as well as give better guidelines to officers for enforcing neglect laws.

Susan Moore is a South Bend pet owner who attended Wednesday night’s public forum. She said she supports the proposal because it will help educate residents about what’s expected of them and their neighbors.

While dozens of questions were asked at the forum, the majority of folks in attendance walked out in agreement with the proposed changes to the law.


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