Meridian Star

October 28, 2013

Don't put responsible dog owners on a short leash

The Meridian Star
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Last week members of the Meridian City Council unanimously voted to limit the number of dogs residents can keep to three.

    The new law stipulates that violators will be subject to a misdemeanor charge with a punishment of at least $50 and not more than $1,000, or imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed 90 days, or both a fine and imprisonment. Each day's violation shall be deemed a separate offense.

    The law states that it will be unlawful for any person to keep or maintain more than three dogs on their premises inside the city limits. It shall further be unlawful for any person to keep or maintain newly born puppies once they reach six months of age.

    We don't understand the council's action. There are already laws in place to deal with dogs that that bark too much or are deemed a nuisance.

    When asked if a family that has four dogs will have to get rid of one of their dogs, Ward Five Councilman Randy Hammon said, "Absolutely. It's not going to happen overnight; it's going to happen when it becomes an issue with a neighbor and a neighbor reports it."

    Later, at a community meeting, Ward Four Councilwoman Kim Houston said the council adopted the new law because there were people inside the city limits who are breeding dogs for sale. She said the rule is not to take away pets who have become like family members.

    "I assure you that we are not going to come knocking on your door, looking to see how many dogs you have in your backyard," Houston said.

    Apparently, Hammon and Houston have differing views on how strictly the law will be enforced.

    And quite frankly, once a law is passed, enforcement is out of the council's domain. It will be up to the city's two Animal Control officers or the city's police department to enforce the law.

    Laws, by their very nature, are inflexible. What happens when an Animal Control officer, policeman or policewoman is dispatched to a complaint of a resident keeping more than three dogs as allowed by law?

    Furthermore, what if the pet owner is responsible, keeps the dogs well fed, cared for, fenced in and quiet?

    No matter that the person is doing all they can to care for their pets and be mindful of their neighbors, they are still breaking the law as written. So does the animal control officer, policeman or policewoman enforce the law, or not?

    The law puts officers in a bad position and could make otherwise law abiding citizens lawbreakers.

    Last week, we chided the previous Meridian City Council members for approving in May a motion prohibiting all citizens' comments at council meetings to stop what the council deemed was disruptive behavior by some residents.

    The council recently voted to reinstate citizens' comments, with stipulations aimed at curbing disruptive behavior.

    As we stated last week, "Action taken by the council in May should have been aimed at curtailing the behavior of those disrupting meetings and not implementing a blanket policy that prevented all residents from voicing their opinions on matters of city business."

    The same applies to the dog ordinance, which punishes all residents for the actions of a few.

    If the council wants to prohibit dog breeding for profit inside the city limits, that's the law they should enact — not a blanket policy that puts all dog owners on a short leash.

    We hope that in the future council members will take more time to deliberate the consequences of their actions. They might not be sitting on the council in a few years, but chances are the laws they pass will still be on the books.