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Overhauled animal ordinance headed to City Council

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The sign outside the City of Roswell Animal Services facility at 705 E. McGaffey St. (Alex Ross Photo)

A months-long effort by city officials to overhaul the city’s animal control ordinance could be coming to an end, with a proposed ordinance that includes changes such as the implementation of some new fees and lowering of others, and a requirement that pets be microchipped.

With input from local animal rescue organizations, the city’s Public Safety Committee has been working for months to rewrite Chapter 4 of the Roswell City Code, which pertains to the keeping and ownership of animals and fowl within city limits.

“We walked in with the goal of doing what is best for the community, what is best for the animal population and how to deal with the issues we are having with lost and stray pets,” said Mike Matthews, Roswell assistant city manager.

The committee at its Nov. 19 meeting voted to refer to the full City Council a motion to advertise a public hearing about the proposed changes. The motion to advertise will be considered by the full council this Thursday.

The Public Safety Committee at their December meeting will place the pet fees, which were formerly included in the ordinance itself, in a separate resolution.

Matthews said placing the fees in a resolution will make it easier for the council to raise or lower fees in the future, as opposed to having to once again change the ordinance.

If the council votes to advertise for the hearing and the fee resolution is approved by the committee, both the new fees and the ordinance revisions will be discussed at the January public hearing.

The current ordinance has not been updated in years and is lengthy, complicated, filled with redundancies and difficult for animal control officers to enforce and citizens to understand, Matthews explained.

The new document has been condensed into five articles: generalities, livestock, keeping of dogs and cats, impoundment and rabies control, with a total of 39 sections.

Committee chair Jeanine Corn Best said 8 to 10 meetings were dedicated solely to the reworking of the ordinance and fees, with the hope of creating a more user-friendly proposed ordinance. Committee members and city officials were aided in part by representatives from local animal rescue groups and organizations.

Michael Abler, a veterinarian at College Garden Animal Hospital and member of the board of the local chapter of the Humane Society, which provided input in drafting the proposed ordinance, said he is pleased with it.

“What our interest was is animal welfare, how this is going to benefit the animals,” Abler said.

For pet owners, one of the biggest proposed changes in the new draft ordinance is a requirement that all cats and dogs be microchipped. The current ordinance states each animal kept by a person be either microchipped or shall wear a tag at all times issued by Roswell Animal Services, which states that an animal has been altered, vaccinated or registered.

The revised draft ordinance does away with the tags. And under the new proposed fees, the city would microchip the animals for a fee of $10 per animal.

The change, Matthews said, would be easier for pet owners. Under existing city code, pet owners every year must obtain a new aluminum tag, with their information on it. He added getting a new tag each year is something that pet owners sometimes forget to do, while some pets do not wear a collar and therefore cannot wear a tag.

An animal though only needs to be microchipped once and it is good for life, Matthews said. All the animal’s information is then kept in a computer system.

All of the city’s animal control units are equipped with scanners that can read the microchipped information, so that if an officer encounters a pet, they can scan them and find out the animal’s home address.

Matthews said as a result of the changes, animals that are owned as pets would likely not have to spend any time in the shelter.

Abler said the change will reconnect animals with their owners more quickly while cutting down on the population at the city’s animal shelter.

Other proposed changes will include the addition or elimination of certain fees. One of the most significant revisions is the reduction of the fee to adopt an animal from Roswell Animal Services from the existing fee of $40 to $1, a move meant to encourage adoption of pets from the city shelter.

“We want to get more animals out there into the public and not in the cages,” Best said.

Matthews noted the current $40 fee can make adopting an animal more difficult. In addition to the fee, he said state law requires that when someone adopts a pet, that it be spayed or neutered, something that can cost $100 or more depending on the veterinarian who provides it.

The new proposal, if passed, would ease that burden.

The city’s new fee schedule would also establish a one-time $50 fee for maintaining an animal that is not spayed or neutered. If that animal is later caught running at large, the animal will have to be spayed or neutered.

Abler said he hopes the fee will encourage people to get their pets spayed or neutered, something that will reduce the number of unwanted and stray animals.

“The goal is to control population, control numbers and have good health for the animals that we have,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.