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KINGSBURG — The city is getting closer to passing new rules that would crack down on residents who aren’t taking responsibility for their pets.

The City Council decided on Sept. 7 to move a new animal control ordinance to a second reading, at which point the council may approve it. This could happen as soon as the next council meeting on Sept. 21. 

The city said that with recent cases of animals running loose and even attacking other animals and people, the main goal of the ordinance is to put rules in place so that owners face real consequences for these actions.

“If you approach a neighbor about an issue, most people will get the message that they need to change something,” Mayor Bruce Blayney said. “If they don’t get the message, that’s when we bring in enforcement. Hopefully, a lot of these things resolve themselves.”

The ordinance was originally introduced at the Aug. 17 City Council meeting. Although the council was supportive of it, there were a few things they wanted changed.

The ordinance was changed to say that dogs cited more than three times in a year for excessive noise or being at large will be deemed a public nuisance. At that point, if the owner doesn’t remove the animal, they face a misdemeanor charge, fines and even jail time.

The city said they’ve only had one case in the past several years where that has happened.

“It’s pretty unrealistic that someone will be fined or get jail time,” Blayney said.

The original language of the ordinance suggested that a case of excessive noise would immediately constitute a public nuisance. The three-citation rule was added to the at large section. 

A provision was also added to the ordinance in regards to court hearings. If an owner requests a Fresno County Superior Court hearing about a citation, they can appeal the court’s decision within 10 days of the verdict.

The council also requested a change at the Sept. 7 meeting. The ordinance required that owners microchip both their dogs and cats. However, due to concerns from the community, the provision is being changed to just applying to dogs, as some say cats who are at large or involved in some other incident would be difficult to catch and scan for chips. 

“If they’re owned, it shouldn’t be an issue,” said Community Services and Senior Citizen Coordinator Ashlee Winslow-Schmal. “I know a lot of people have cats and wouldn’t mind having them microchipped, but I think catching them and having them scanned would be difficult.”

Councilman Ben Creighton agreed and said that if microchipping was taken off the table for cats, those that are owned are still likely to have a collar and/or tag to help identify the owner. In general, Creighton said requiring microchipping is crucial, especially for dogs.

“Without mandatory microchipping, I think the rest of [the ordinance] is nearly impossible to enforce,” he said. “Just playing devil’s advocate here, a pit bull owner could be cited and then, say something happens eight months later, the owner could say that it’s not the same dog and that it just looks remarkably alike. If it’s not microchipped, you can’t positively say it’s the same animal.”

Public comment

Although residents seem to be supportive of the ordinance, some said it’s not enough to deal with the number of animal issues in the area.

Resident Jodi Brinkman said that a few weeks ago, she found three pit bulls in her front yard. At one point, she said an elderly man was walking his dog across the street and one of the pit bulls got loose and attacked it.

“The dog picked the terrier up in his mouth,” she said. “I hit the dog in chest and it dropped the other dog. The man grabbed his dog and left. Had I not been there at that moment, that little dog would be dead. There’s no question in my mind.”

Brinkman said she tried to get help from the police, but said they told her there was nothing they could do.

“They told me ‘you have two options -- you can let them loose or you can take them to the [Fresno County] Humane Society, but make sure you lie to them. Don’t tell them you live within the city limits, or they will turn you away,’” she said.

Brinkman said that unfortunately, she had already talked to the agency earlier about getting them to take the dogs and had already told them that she lives in Kingsburg.

“I’m left with no option,” she said. “I took them to the society and lied to them. I said I found them outside of town. They were suspicious. They knew I was lying, but they couldn’t prove it at the time.”

Brinkman said it’s unfortunate that there’s no clear path in place for people who are trying to help with at-large animals.

“What can we do as a community? What can we do as a city for people like me?” she asked. “Is that really the option for people who try to do the right thing: Let them go or lie? We need to move forward with an avenue where a citizen doesn’t have to lie to an agency to get something taken care of.”

Blayney said that the police shouldn’t have given her that choice.

“I will question whether proper procedure was followed. That will be checked into,” he said. “I do not believe that was approved procedure.”

Another Kingsburg resident, Margie Smith, spoke regarding the city hiring an animal control officer. Currently, the city doesn’t have one. It has the ability to appoint an officer as a designated animal control officer when needed.

“You can’t just throw out duties to someone and say ‘handle that,’ because there are a lot of laws here that have to be taken into consideration,” she said. “People have to be taught how to handle an animal correctly. There are different techniques and temperaments with different kinds of dogs. You need to have a permanent animal control officer, not one who would just be kind of thrown into this job.”

Blayney said a full-time animal control officer is something the city wants. However, what he said what it all comes down to is money.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to increase the size of our police force,” he said. “We’re trying to put together a way that we can provide additional public safety funding. [An animal control officer] would be one of the aspects of an expanded public safety force.”

With some residents wanting the city to take further action when it comes to animal control, City Manager Alex Henderson said the ordinance isn’t intended to address all animal control issues in Kingsburg.

"This ordinance is one step in our journey as it relates to animal control,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to address some of these other issues that were brought up tonight. We certainly don’t want anyone to think we’re not working toward that.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2429 or jluiz@hanfordsentinel.com

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