City may add bite to pet laws

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council is being asked to put more teeth into its dog-biting policy and other pet-related laws.

Increasing fines and fees, adding an amendment that would make it illegal to keep an unattended dog or cat in a hot vehicle, and clarifying what constitutes a vicious or dangerous dog are all among the proposed changes to the animal section in the municipal code. The council will consider the changes at its meeting today.

City Animal Control Officer Sanne Pollak has been working to update the city ordinance, which was adopted in 1981. Pollak was spurred by an animal control conference she attended in May that discussed municipal codes and ways to improve them.

Before taking the changes to the City Council, Pollak looked at animal ordinances in Durango, Colorado Springs, Denver and Pueblo. Pollak, who has worked as a city animal control officer for three years, said that parts of the current code are too general and the cost of fines and fees have not been updated in 20 years.

"It wasn't defined enough," Pollak said of the code. "It was really general and we ran into lots of problems."

One of the biggest changes proposed specifies that owners cannot leave their pets in a vehicle when it is 70 degrees or warmer outside, unless an animal control officer sees adequate ventilation and water.

Currently, Pollak said pet owners who leave their animals in hot vehicles can only get ticketed for not providing water. In the summer, the animal control officers get half a dozen calls per week about pets trapped in vehicles.

"Pretty much every summer it is a big issue -- leaving dogs in vehicles for a long period of time. But it is hard to do anything at this point," Pollak said.

The amendment also distinguishes between a vicious and dangerous dog. It defines a dangerous dog as one who, when unmuzzled, unleashed or unattended approaches any person in a public place in a vicious or terrorizing manner with an apparent intent to attack.

Any animal that has been deemed a dangerous animal on three or more occasions is then considered a vicious animal.

A vicious animal is also one that, when unprovoked, bites or attacks a human or other animal on public or private property. It also includes an animal with a known tendency to attack unprovoked and cause injury or endangerment to a human or domesticated animal.

Under the amendment, any animal deemed to be vicious, either by the city manager or a municipal court judge, has to be kept in an enclosure at all times. If the animal is not confined to an enclosure, an animal control officer can impound the animal. And, if the owner has not appealed the impoundment order within seven working days, the animal will be euthanized.

Pollak said the proposed amendment would also charge pet owners with abandonment if their pets were knowingly picked up by the city and left at the animal shelter.

Fines that would increase under the proposal include a $15 jump from $35 to $50 for a first offense of animal running at large, from $50 to $75 for second convictions and from $75 to $100 for the third and each subsequent offense.

The animal shelter's adopting and licensing fees also could increase. The amendment proposes boosting the adoption fee from $15 to $25.

The licensing fee would increase from $2 to $5, and $25 for pets who have not been spayed or neutered.


-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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