Ordinances address city's stance on wild animals

Published on Saturday, 17 May 2014 22:59 - Written by Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

Mary Fowler is accustomed to calls about baby raccoons.

In her nine years with Tyler Animal Control, the senior field training officer has heard of people finding raccoons in chimneys and in backyards.

She said animal control picks up the raccoons, feeds them with a baby bottle, and keeps them warm until the animals can get to a rehabilitator.

“It’s not unusual for us to pick up baby raccoons,” Ms. Fowler said. “They (residents) find them, and they don’t know what to do with them. It’s not uncommon.”

Raccoons are one of the animals that may not be owned, kept, possessed, harbored or exhibited in a household within Tyler city limits, according to the city’s animal ordinance.

The ordinance, which addresses issues such as local rabies control, impoundment, limitation on the number of dogs and cats per household, the keeping of livestock, fowl and swine and dangerous wild animals, has undergone various changes over the years.

Although no changes are proposed for the existing animal ordinance, the new advisory board for the city’s planned animal care facility will examine potential changes over the next several months, City Manager Mark McDaniel said.

According to Tyler’s existing ordinance, households may own or keep up to four dogs or four cats “or any combination thereof.” There are exceptions, such as a veterinary clinic, animal hospital, research institution, animal shelter or adoption facility, kennel, pet shop, qualified researcher, those performing animal exhibition and litters up to 12 weeks old.

As far as livestock, a maximum of one livestock animal per fenced in acre may be kept in an area that is zoned “AG,” and in other zoning districts, a maximum of one livestock animal may be kept per fenced in acre “up to a maximum of three animals,” according to the ordinance. Up to six fowl may be kept per acre in an “AG” zoning area, and in other zoning districts, each household may only keep up to six fowl no matter what the lot size is.

Tyler Animal/Mosquito Control supervisor Bob Gardner, with the Northeast Texas Public Health District, said all fowl must be in a pen, coop or other structure so that they don’t run loose. Hogs and swine cannot be kept within city limits, and there is a leash law for dogs, but not for cats.

The city’s ordinance also addresses dangerous wild animals. Animals that may not be owned, kept, possessed, harbored or exhibited in Tyler city limits include alligators, bats, bears, bobcats, lions, foxes, lynx, skunks, raccoons, panthers, ocelots, tigers, venomous snakes and monkeys. There are exceptions, such as a zoo, zoological park or animal park, research institution, qualified researcher and animal exhibition, as long as the animal/animals are not in or within 300 feet of a residential structure, according to the city ordinance. Service animals and assistance animals also are exempt.

In order to enforce the ordinance within the city, animal control officers predominantly work by complaint, Gardner said. An estimated 10 to 50 complaints come in on a daily basis, most of which are in reference to stray dogs and cats.

If an animal control officer sees people with chickens they aren’t supposed to have, and the animals are running loose, the officer will stop to investigate, he said. 

Also, if a complaint comes in about the number of dogs in a household, animal control will find out what is going on, Gardner said.

He said animal control investigates for rabies inoculations on dogs and cats. Additionally, he said, animal control receives welfare complaints and wildlife complaints.

After investigating any complaint, a notice is given if it is determined that the ordinance is being violated.

At first, animal control gives violators a warning notice, which indicates a specific time frame for them to adhere to the ordinance, so they can avoid citations or further action, Gardner said.

He said animal control at times responds to a report — maybe a dog running loose — but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a violation.

Although there are times when a complaint is not substantiated, responding still helps the city with its records, Gardner said.

He said more complaints typically come in during big storms, as dogs left outside may try to run from the sound of thunder, and in the summer, when children are outside playing and dogs want to play with the children.

Other issues include animal-to-human bites, Gardner said.

He said if a dog or cat bites someone to the point it breaks the skin and bleeds, then the animal must be tested for rabies.

“Whether shots are current or not, the animal has to be tested for rabies if a bite is reported,” he said.

Gardner said the Tyler Police Department also may enforce the animal ordinance.

Tyler is not the only place with an animal ordinance.

In 2011, Whitehouse City Council members approved a new animal control ordinance.

City Marshal Jeff Peck said the old ordinance was dated, and a lot of people had questions about what is and isn’t allowed.

According to the ordinance, households may not own or keep more than four dogs or four cats on private property within city limits, with the exception of a state-licensed veterinary clinic or state-licensed animal shelter, litters as old as 12 weeks, commercial pet shops approved by the Animal Control officer, or if a permit is issued by the Animal Control officer.

Whitehouse City Manager Kevin Huckabee said at the time that the Animal Control officer would look into animal nuisance complaints as they come up.

When the Animal Control officer is determining excessive animals, he will consider multiple factors such as the size of property, types of animals, amount of animals and the validity of nuisance complaints, officials previously said.

The Whitehouse ordinance also prohibits animals from running at large, and addresses animals such as domestic ferrets, pigeons, fowl, nonpoisonous reptiles and rabbits.

According to the ordinance, residents may not harbor more than four ferrets that are over two months old, or possess, harbor or keep more than four nonpoisonous reptiles per household, without a permit from the Animal Control officer.

Peck said any household may have a potbelly pig as a pet, as long as guidelines are met.

Georganne Lenham, co-owner of the Wild Rose Rescue Ranch on Willingham Road, spoke against the ordinance when it was adopted in February 2011. The next month, she and her husband, Bob Lenham, filed a civil lawsuit, claiming that the ordinance was unconstitutional.

Randy Turner, co-counsel for the Lenhams at the time, previously said Mrs. Lenham’s goal was not “just to have an ordinance declared unconstitutional (but) to preserve and protect her beloved animals.”

Smith County 7th Judicial District Court Judge Kerry L. Russell dismissed the case during a hearing in August 2011, saying the court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the issue.

Judge Russell’s decision was later upheld by the 12th Court of Appeals in Dallas, Huckabee previously said.

Huckabee called it “a good ordinance that protects citizens from nuisances and protects the safety of the animals, if followed.”