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Great Apes and the Law
Maps of State Laws
Overview of Municipal Ordinances
Charlotte Walden (2012)
Welcome to the Ordinance Section of the Animal Legal & Historical Center. Here you can find full codes from several cities and counties relating to animals, as well as specific sections relating to a particular topic in animal law (e.g. Breed Specific Legislation, Mandatory Spay/Neuter laws, etc.). While our collection does not capture every code from every city, town or county across the United States, we have tried to collect a representative sample of ordinances relating to animals. If you do not find a specific animal ordinance for a municipality or county on this website, you can contact the municipality or county of interest for more information.
How Can I Find Ordinances On This Site?
On your left, you will see a navigation pane with several drop-down boxes. From there, you can find ordinances in one of three ways:
1. Either by selecting a specific state from the drop down box entitled “Local Ordinances” under the “Select by State” option or
2. By selecting a subject from the drop down box entitled “Local Ordinances” under the “Select by Subject” option or
3. By using the search box located at the top of the navigation pane.
What Are Ordinances?
Ordinances are simply laws passed by local, or municipal, governments. As the Federal and State government have a constitution that authorizes certain power to certain government officials, municipalities and counties have a charter that does the same. The charter, then, like a State or the Federal constitution, will outline how municipalities or counties must enact their laws. Regardless of how much authority a charter grants a municipality or county to establish laws, local units of government usually have a broad right to enact ordinances relating to the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. This is known as police power and animal control and care is considered within this realm.
What Animal Related Topics Do Ordinances Cover?
When you look through the animal section of an ordinance, you will typically find the following topics:
The leashing, tethering, sale, and transportation of dogs,
Dog defecation in public and private places,
Prohibitions against dogs who excessively bark and howl,
Restrictions on the number of dogs and cats a person can own,
Prohibitions on wild and exotic animals,
Dangerous dog/animal requirements and/or prohibitions,
Registration and vaccination requirements for dogs and cats,
Animal control/ enforcement proceedings,
Prohibitions on feeding feral cats,
Impounding and retrieving impounded animals, including notice requirements and fees,
Poisoning and trapping animals,
Dogs in heat,
Restrictions on dogs being allowed into public places,
Procedures to instigate a hearing,
Penalties for violating the provisions of the ordinance.
While the above provides some of the topics you might find in a municipality or county’s ordinance, it is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Indeed, each ordinance is different in terms of its structure and content. For instance, some municipalities may deal with only one or two topics (e.g. the control of stray animals and the leashing of dogs), while others may cover the entire list above. If you are interested in enacting a law in your municipality or county, the following section will give you a general overview on how this is done.
How Do Ordinances Get Passed?
Whenever a citizen believes that a certain problem would best be resolved by a law, the citizen may approach a city or county council member with a proposed ordinance. If the council member is sympathetic towards the citizen’s cause, the member will introduce the proposed legislation to the rest of the council. From there, the city or county will hold a public meeting to discuss adopting or amending the proposed legislation. After the public meeting has commenced, the council will put the proposed law to a vote; if the law passes, it will be binding upon those who are within the specific city’s or county’s limits.
What Are Some Controversial Topics Found In Ordinances?
Yet, while some people may find a problem requires a law, others may not feel the same. This difference in opinion is what makes certain laws so controversial. The following are examples of some of the controversial animal ordinances that you will find on this website:
The West Hollywood, California declaw ban. This ban was enacted due to the perception that declawed cats were more likely to be discarded than non-declawed cats. However, some argue that declaw bans lead to more cats being discarded and that declaw bans adversely affect human health (i.e. there will be more instances of infections due to scratches).
The West Hollywood, California fur ban. This ban was enacted due to the perception that killing animals purely for fashion is wrong. However, some felt that this ban singled out certain industries, as there were no bans on other animal fashion products, such as leather and hide. When this ban was enacted, many stores that sold fur in West Hollywood threatened to take their businesses elsewhere.
Mandatory Spay and Neuter (MSN) laws, such as those found in Fort Worth, Texas, and Los Angeles County. These mandates were enacted due to the perception that MSN would reduce shelter intake and the subsequent euthanizing of unwanted dogs and cats. However, some argue that MSN is a drastic overreach of government power and that it does not prevent what it was enacted for.
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). Many municipalities have banned certain breeds of dogs due to the perception that these dogs pose a greater risk to the public than other breeds. Thus, with BSL, municipalities hoped to reduce the number of dog attacks within their jurisdiction. However, some people argue that it is not sound policy to assume an individual dog poses a hazard to the public just because it happens to be a certain breed.
What Is An Example Of A Model Ordinance?
Not all ordinances are created the same, which means that some ordinances provide better models than others. A good or “model” animal control ordinance should include a definitional section that clearly defines the words used in the law. Definitional sections, like the ones found in the Phoenix, Arizona and the Los Angeles County ordinances, are important to ordinances because they provide boundaries to what the law covers. Along with a definitional section, an ordinance should also contain a section on who is authorized to enforce the terms of the ordinance. For without defining certain terms, those who are authorized to enforce the ordinance lack guidance as to which animals and people are regulated under the local law.
In addition to definitions and sections describing who is authorized to enforce the ordinance, “model” codes should also carefully laid out penalties for violations, as well as group laws that relate together into separate sections (e.g., pet licensing or dangerous animals). These sections should reflect the particular concerns of a community whether they relate to large feral cat populations or measures to regulate commercial breeders. Finally, because animal control often involves seizure of animals found in violation of the code, the owner or keeper should be given an opportunity to contest the seizure. This should also be described in language that is easily understood by the general public. San Mateo, California provides an example of an ordinance that provides an animal owner with the opportunity to contest a violation.
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Overview of Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) Ordinances
Charlotte Walden (2012)
Some municipalities and counties believe that certain breeds of dogs pose a hazard to the health, safety, and welfare of their inhabitants. For example, the legislative findings in the Melvindale, Michigan ordinance asserts that because of the severity of pit bull dog bites, pit bulls pose an undue risk to the people of Melvindale. So, in order to protect their residents, municipalities and counties may pass an ordinance that prohibits certain breeds within their jurisdiction. These ordinances are known as Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL).
The most commonly banned breeds are:
American Pit Bull Terriers,
Staffordshire Bull Terriers,
American Staffordshire Terriers, and
Other breeds known to be banned by BSL include:
Canary Island Dogs, and
While American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Bull Terriers are commonly banned by being defined as “pit bulls,” a municipality or county, like Hesston, Kansas, may ban these breeds without defining them as “pit bulls.” On another hand, other municipalities and counties, like Ottumwa, Iowa or Reynoldsburg, Ohio, may even ban “pit bulls” without listing which breeds are encompassed in that term and without defining what that term means.
In a typical BSL ordinance, municipalities or counties will often ban more than just the specific breed by including dogs that contain some lineage of the banned breed. For example, a municipality or county, like Fruitland, Idaho, may ban any dog mixed with a banned breed that contains an element of the banned breed so as to be partially identified as being a banned breed. Likewise, a municipality or county, like Cameron, Missouri, may also ban any dog that that has the appearance and characteristics of being predominately one or more of the banned breeds. While some ordinances, like those of Melvindale, Michigan, may create guidelines or may use American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club standards to help determine which dogs are banned, the overall vagueness in defining which dogs are banned by an ordinance is oftenwhat makes BSL so controversial.
In the event a municipality or county determines a person’s dog is banned by an ordinance, an owner may want to contest that determination. In order to commence such a hearing, some ordinances, like Morgan City, Louisiana or Central Falls, Rhode Island, will set out the procedures that an owner must follow in order to contest that determination. Please note, however, that in the instance where someone has previously registered his or her dog as a “pit bull” with the city or the county, a city or a county, like Pittsburgh, Kansas, may not allow that person to contest that his or her dog is a “pit bull.” In such cases, the dog will be banned from the city or the county without a hearing.
Though dangerous dog, dangerous animal, and vicious dog determinations are distinct from BSL, these determinations are sometimes used to ban specific breeds. For instance, in Buckley, Washington, the ordinance bans breeds defined as “pit bulls” by listing “pit bulls” as a dangerous dog. In doing so, some cities or counties, like Clayton, Missouri or Newaygo, Michigan, may allow owners of “pit bulls” to contest that their dogs are dangerous or vicious dogs/animals. In these cities or counties, if, after a hearing, a person’s “pit bull” is determined not to be a vicious or a dangerous dog/animal, the “pit bull” will not be subjected to the ban.
Once a dog is determined to be a banned breed, the ordinance will offer a list of verbs to indicate which activities are prohibited. For instance, in Morgan City, Louisiana, a person cannot “own, possess, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, or sell within the city any pit bull.” While the activities listed in the Morgan City ordinance are not included in all BSL ordinances, this ordinance demonstrates the range of activities that can be prohibited by BSL. Controversially, however, where a municipality or a county prohibit a banned breed from being transported within their limits, an ordinance, like Denver, Colorado, may require the owner of a banned breed to acquire a transport permit before his or her dog can be transported through the municipality or the county. Likewise, other municipalities and counties may require an owner of a banned breed to follow other guidelines before his or her dog can be transported through their jurisdictions.
While some cities may ban the transportation of certain breeds within their limits, other cities use transportation, especially if the prohibited dog is being transported to a veterinary clinic within the city or the county, as an exception to the ban. Other exceptions to the bans include, but are not limited to:
Service dogs, and
Grandfathered dogs (i.e. dogs that would have otherwise been banned who were registered with the city before the ban went into effect).
If an ordinance provides an exception for grandfathered dogs, the ordinance will offer a list of requirements that an owner of a grandfathered dog must follow in order for the exception to apply. Some of these requirements include:
Liability insurance (which can range anywhere between $50,000 to $1 million),
Muzzle and leash requirements,
Indoor and outdoor confinement specifications,
Certain reporting requirements (i.e. in the event of the dog’s demise, sale, or birth of a litter),
Finally, if a person violates an ordinance that bans specific breeds, he or she may be subjected to fines and jail time, while his or her dog may be subjected to impoundment, permanent removal from the city and/or county or even death.
While the ordinances on this website are a representative sample of the many ways BSL can be constructed, this website does not contain every BSL ordinance that exists within the United States. If you are curious to learn whether or not your city or county has a BSL ordinance, or if you are curious to learn how your city or county has constructed its BSL, it is best to contact the city or county of interest to receive such information.
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