Quality or Quantity?
Dog ownership has become a numbers game with a shrinking bottom line
By: Norma Bennett Woolf Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues |
Two dogs? Four dogs? Six? Eight? How many dogs are too many?
It depends on where you live.
The National Animal Interest Alliance believes that personal circumstances and responsibility should determine how many pets reside in a household, but a growing number of our neighbors and elected leaders think otherwise. Slowly but steadily these lawmakers and busybodies are chipping away at our rights to own the number and type of animals of our choice.
NAIA supports the passage and consistent enforcement of nuisance laws that require dogs to be kept under control and quiet and pooper scooper laws that require owners to clean up after their dogs on public property.1 Unfortunately, however, these laws are often ignored until a situation becomes unbearable and neighbors march to city hall to get something done. If the pet owner has five dogs that bark, a draft bill that follows the complaints might limit people to four dogs. Then someone who has a neighbor with three outdoor cats pipes up and demands that cats be regulated too. The next draft of the bill limits people to four pets in any combination of dogs and cats.
Sometimes, as in Cleveland, Ohio, the local humane society gets into the fray with claims that no one is capable of caring for more than a certain number of pets and therefore the city should set a limit.
Sometimes, dog limits are used to grease a political squeaky wheel. Several years ago, trustees in Union Township, Clermont County, Ohio, a fast-growing Cincinnati bedroom community, criminalized ownership of more than five dogs at the request of residents in a new subdivision when a private shelter proposed to build a kennel on nine acres adjacent to a nearby commercial business strip. The subdivision did not abut the shelter property, but the limit was passed when the state legislature defeated a bill that would have allowed the township to deny the organization a building permit by changing agricultural zoning laws.
When people violate limit laws, they are often forced to ‘get rid of’ the ‘excess’ pets in their homes. A Fairfield, Ohio, woman faced such a dilemma when she was charged with harboring 27 dogs in a community that allows only two dogs per household. The 27 dogs were all licensed; most were neutered, and all were clean, healthy, and well-behaved. (The woman was turned in by the local humane society when she applied for 27 dog licenses.) She found homes for 17 dogs and challenged the city to take her to court on the remaining 10. If no news is good news, the city may have decided to leave her alone.
Are limit laws unconstitutional?
Even when dog owners win, they can lose. A couple from Cary, North Carolina, fought the city’s long-standing two dog limit and won; the limit was erased from the books in 2001 after the county attorney refused to prosecute the case on the grounds that the law was probably unconstitutional.2 However, the family is under fire from its subdivision board for violating pet restrictions in the community covenants.
A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court declared pet limits unconstitutional if passed without a clear connection to community health and safety.3 The court concluded: “What is not an infringement upon public safety and is not a nuisance cannot be made one by legislative fiat and then prohibited. Even legitimate legislative goals cannot be pursued by means which stifle fundamental personal liberty when the goals can otherwise be more reasonably achieved.”
Along with knee-jerk reactions to problems more easily solved by consistent enforcement of nuisance laws, elected officials sometimes pass pet limits in order to control stray dogs and stop “pet overpopulation,” place additional restrictions on the ownership of particular breeds or mixes, or, the latest excuse, prevent animal hoarding.
Strays and ‘pet overpopulation’: Chicago has 30,000 strays each year, and the head of the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control would like a limit of perhaps five dogs per household to stem the tide. He’d throw in a limit on the number of intact dogs, too.
Last December, Nikki Proutsos, executive director of the commission, told the Chicago Sun Times: “I like the fact that it’s a double-edged sword – that you actually get people to comply with a restricted number of animals, but you also get people to be encouraged to spay or neuter their pets. The foundation of my problem at Animal Care and Control is the overpopulation issue, which is fostered by animals not being spayed or neutered – animals being allowed to roam the neighborhoods unspayed, unneutered, creating litters.”4
Two Chicago aldermen said they would draft a bill limiting the number of intact dogs per household.
“There are many problems that surround a home that has numerous animals – waste, feces, odors, noise, potential danger,” Alderman Ginger Rugai told the Sun Times. “In our community, we have many large lots and people often have a large number of animals. They stray. They perhaps are out all day long with no one home when people are at work.”
Staunton, Virginia, city council is considering a limit of four ‘grown’ dogs and cats, only two of which can be dogs. Those who currently have more than two dogs will be allowed to keep them until they die, but those who want to add dogs or cats must apply for permission and agree to sterilize the additional animals. ‘Grown’ dogs and cats are those that have been weaned, so litters of pups and kittens are verboten without a permit to keep excess animals.
Breed restrictions: Communities that restrict certain breeds often limit owners to no more than one dog of the named breeds or mixes.
Taking advantage of the Ohio law that defines pit bulls as vicious, the cities of Toledo and Cincinnati limit owners to one dog of the pit bull type. In these cities and others, breeders, exhibitors, trainers, and others who enjoy these breeds are denied the opportunity to pursue their interest no matter how well they raise and train their dogs.
Hoarding: Most people involved with animals have heard the horror stories about dozens or even hundreds of animals kept in cramped, filthy conditions in a home or kennel. If the property owner is a breeder, the facility is called a puppy mill. If the owner is not a breeder, the property owner is tagged as a hoarder, someone who collects animals but does not have the capability of providing them with appropriate housing and care. Some hoarders began as rescuers of stray and unwanted animals. There is little research done on the phenomenon, but nonetheless it has been seized upon as rationale for pet limits.
Exemptions: Some pet limits provide exemptions for rescue groups, foster homes, and breeders if they apply for a license and pay a fee. Any dog owner who falls outside these categories is out of luck.
Why not pet limits?
The National Animal Interest Alliance opposes pet limits because they do not address the problem of nuisance dogs, are difficult to enforce, make scofflaws out of responsible dog owners, provide opportunities for neighbors to escalate squabbles, deny good homes to additional pets, and have no connection with animal hoarding. Pet limits also tend to increase animal control problems and shelter crowding and deaths as owners are forced to ‘get rid of’ their ‘excess’ pets by surrendering them to shelters or pounds or turning them loose on the streets. Limits also reduce the opportunity to rescue a dog from a shelter or other source.
There is no link between a specific number of dogs and nuisance; one dog that barks or runs loose can cause more trouble than a dozen that are quiet and stay at home.
Singling out owners who have a specific number of dogs merely shifts the responsibility for causing a nuisance from the dog owner (where it belongs) to all owners of multiple dogs and does not solve community dog problems.
- Limits punish breeders, obedience trainers and other competitors, and all other responsible dog owners — the citizens that communities need to keep, not drive away. Rather than being targeted, they should be asked for advice in handling dog problems.
- Limits are difficult to enforce and have been declared unconstitutional in some areas.
- Limits punish responsible owners whose dogs — regardless of numbers — are reliable community citizens.
- Limits can lead to more dog deaths if residents are prohibited from providing a home for an extra shelter dog or a stray.
- Limits and other laws that are only enforced on complaint create disrespect for the law and provide ammunition for neighborhood feuds.
Ohio Valley Dog Owners Inc., an NAIA affiliate organization, developed this list of alternatives to number limits5:
Vigorous enforcement of all state animal control laws and local nuisance laws to protect responsible dog owners and our neighbors from canine pests, and force only the guilty parties to pay the price.
Education sessions for responsible dog ownership that encourage obedience training, Canine Good Citizen certification, and good pet manners.
Passage of nuisance ordinances that protect the rights of all citizens.
Education about responsible dog ownership and care in schools and youth organizations. (The American Kennel Club has a free dog care program for elementary schools that includes a video tape, teacher’s guide, and worksheets and can be supplemented with demonstrations of obedience training, grooming, and talks on veterinary care by local training clubs or veterinarians.)
Responsible Pet Owners Alliance, an NAIA affiliate in Texas, compiled these alternatives with input from NAIA, AKC, and other animal welfare organizations:
- Enforcement of nuisance laws.
- Use of an arbitrator to mediate neighborhood disputes about animals.
- Use of alternative sentencing such as community service at the county animal shelter, attendance at a class on responsible dog ownership, or participation in a full obedience training course for those who violate nuisance ordinances.
- Periodic programs, public service announcements, or mailings about responsible dog ownership or city sponsorship of a Canine Good Citizen Test to encourage residents to be responsible dog owners. Increased public education efforts are better ways to address the issue of irresponsible dog ownership.
NAIA, the American Kennel Club, and the San Francisco SPCA oppose pet limits. Animal rights groups, however, are silent. They profess to support the welfare of animals and use ‘pet overpopulation’ and shelter euthanasia statistics to generate emotion and raise money, but they are usually nowhere to be found when limits are proposed, even though these laws limit the number of good homes available and cause pets to be killed or dumped.
What you can do
1. Be aware of local laws and pending legislation.
2. Get local veterinarians involved when limit laws are proposed. (It worked in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky where a pet limit was derailed when a veterinarian contacted clients to get them to the council hearing.)
3. Join a local pet owners coalition or a dog or cat club federation to monitor legislation affecting pets and raise the profile of responsible dog ownership.
4. Join NAIA to support a national effort to turn lawmakers away from ordinances that punish good pet owners in an effort to resolve community dog problems caused by ignorance and irresponsibility.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |