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Quick Summary of Emerging Issues in Municipal Ordinances

Jacqueline M. Logan

Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Quick Summary of Emerging Issues in Municipal Ordinances

In 2005, West Hollywood was the first city in the United States to pass a local ordinance banning veterinarians from performing declaw surgeries, a standard procedure in the veterinary field.  This was just the first step in bringing national attention to the evolving role of animal control by local government.  Historically, animal control was created to protect humans from animals. While ethical and humane treatment standards were slowly introduced, they were not at the forefront of most municipalities' concerns.  Local government's main priority has always been to ensure the health and welfare of community members in a set geographical area. 

While state laws also cover many areas of animal control, for many situations, local municipalities are best to handle animal control issues because of the specific needs of different communities.  Due to differing income levels, education levels, and diverse culture across states, local governments serve their communities better by handling animal control issues specific to the individual city or town's needs and experiences.

This topic area covers the history and purpose of animal control and more thoroughly discuss the reasons behind state versus local government enforcement.  It is generally more feasible and appropriate for local governments to address issues such as overpopulation, feral cat management, dangerous dogs and dog attacks, vaccination regulations, and wildlife and exotic because each geographic area will have specific needs and diverse cultures that change from one municipality to the next.  Through the enactment of ordinances tailored to a specific community, the goals of combating animal overpopulation, establishing educational programs for community members, and restoring the human animal bond are accomplished. 

Additionally, the topic area examines some controversial ordinances from four municipalities: King County, Washington; Stone Harbor, New Jersey; West Hollywood, California; and Tuscon, Arizona. The specific ordinances covered are: mandatory spay and neuter laws (King County); feral cat management (Stone Harbor); animal welfare measures that include a ban on declawing and the regulation of pet breeding (West Hollywood); and anti-tethering laws for dogs (Tuscon).

What is common among many ordinances and subsequent animal control regulation is the lack of research that has been done in these areas to support the effectiveness of the specific laws.  Much of animal regulation and control is fueled by emotion and public opinion while balancing economic considerations.  This topic examines case studies, journal articles, and information provided by various animal welfare agencies, to conclude that more research should be conducted to establish effective and efficient codes that reflect the community needs. 

A majority of the research indicates that local governments, animal control agencies, veterinarians, and animal welfare groups could benefit from a comprehensive approach that involves incorporating legislation, education, and sterilization (known as the "LES approach").  The model code section also provides a basic outline the assist city municipalities in constructing their own codes to specifically address the issues in their own communities.  By balancing the community needs, economic capacity, public health and welfare, and humane treatment of animals, local governments can more effectively respond and control current animal issues in their community.


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