Since Palm Coast incorporated as a city in 2000, its animal control ordinance has been little different than the county ordinance it incorporated at the time, which has limited regulations and fees. Tuesday evening, the Palm Coast City Council took the first step toward adopting a more stringent animal control ordinance whose regulations would apply mostly to dog owners through steeper fees, licensing requirements, noise, waste and leash rules.
Some key changes:
The city’s animal control officers, who are part of the city’s code enforcement department, will have full authority to capture any animal not leashed and not on its owner’s property, or any dangerous, abandoned or neglected animal. Those animals will either be returned to their owners, potentially for a fee, or taken to a Humane Society shelter. A first-time transport fee would be $40, increasing to $75 on subsequent trips.
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Dogs, including off-duty police dogs, may no longer be walked without a leash. In other words, word commands alone are no longer permissible to keep a dog under control when the dog is off its owner’s property, and leashes must be no longer than 8 feet. Even in the open bed of a truck, dogs may no longer be left untethered. They must be either caged or tethered. Animals on their owners’ property don’t have to be enclosed or tethered as long as they know their boundaries.
Code enforcement officers will also have more authority to cite owners of noisy dogs, but the threshold is relatively high. For example, a dog must bark continuously for 20 minutes or more to trigger an issue. But it’s not just barking or dogs. If the dog — or animal — “cries, howls, screeches, squawks, screams, whines or makes other prolonged or disturbing noises,” it’s an issue. A mere complaint from a neighbor won’t do it, but repeated complaints will lead to a code enforcement officer visiting the area, listening in and, if necessary, intervening by issuing a warning, and then a citation that would go before the code enforcement board. Barbara Grossman, the city’s code enforcement manager, said her inspectors will, in fact, go to a property’s surroundings and sit there, observing and listening for at least 20 minutes, to corroborate complaints.
Owners whose animals are found without a collar, a tag or a muzzle, when required, may also be cited.
Violation costs are broken down into two categories. Class I violations include failures to license or vaccinate an animal, an excessively barking dog, a dog running at large, leaving waste behind or a dog creating a nuisance, such as an animal found at large more than two times, an unsanitary animal or even a smelly animal whose smell bothers neighbors. Those violations would increase from the current $50 (which applies regardless of the number of times the same violation is recorded) to $75 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, and $200 for a third and every additional offense after that.
Class II violations include the failure to restrain an animal on a truck bed, failure to confine an animal in heat or to register a dangerous animal, and cruelty to animals. (The definition of each violation is in the ordinance.) First-time violations in that class will cost you $100, $200 for a second offense, and $300 for each offense after that. It’s a change from the current $100 fine on the books now, no matter how many times an offense is committed.
And if your cat or dog is in heat, watch out: “It is prohibited and unlawful for the owner of any female dog or cat in season to fail to confine said animal,” the proposed ordinance reads, “either willfully or through failure to exercise due care and control, in such a manner so as to make said animal inaccessible to any male dog or cat except for breeding purposes.” In this as in many other instances—and as some members of the city council pointed out—the ordinance’s legal language can be more confusing than clarifying. A council member asked that the ordinance be re-written with lay readers in mind.
The proposal also bans catching or holding “swans, ducks, geese, bract, coots, gallinules or any other kind of waterfowl” within city limits.
Licensing fees are unchanged from the current ordinance: it’s $5 for a cat or dog that’s been spayed or neutered, $10 for animals that haven’t been. But a duplicate tag for either animal would cost $1 (as opposed to nothing right now). And licensing a dog classified as dangerous, which carries no cost at the moment, will cost $150.
“The money isn’t the important thing to us right now as much as we need to have that database out in the field,” City Manager Jim Landon said. That database would compile the name, address and phone number of every licensed animal owner, including dangerous animals. The database would also detail the animal’s description and health history, such as rabies vaccination history, and include a veterinarian contact.
“With our computer technology and the vehicles,” Landon said, “if we have that tag or that chip reader that tells us where that animal belongs, instead of taking it to the shelter, we can take it directly to the home, which is a great service because it’s a whole lot more convenient. Also it allows us to do some enforcement of people who don’t take care of their animals correctly. I am amazed in getting in this business of how many cruelty cases we have, where people are not taking care of their animals properly or using them for inappropriate means.”
Petting zoos, fairs or zoos going through town and owners with animals visiting for 30 days or less would be exempt from some of the licensing rules though not, for example, the leash requirement.
Council members and their staff aside, surprisingly few—about half a dozen—people addressed the proposed ordinance in a meeting on Monday, and only to address peripheral issues. The substance of the ordinance itself was never in question. Two people, however, raised the matter of neighborhood fireworks that traumatize animals, dogs in particular.
“I consider it cruelty to animals for any person to throw a firecracker at a dog,” Charlie Erickson said. “I’ve had two or three that have been permanently disabled from a firecracker landing too close. Now I live a mile and a half from Town Center. I turned the TV up, I turned the radio on, I made all kinds of diversified attempts to keep the dogs’ attention away, including the TV on cartoons etc., but people need to understand that firecrackers are cruelty to animals. They hear a lot farther and a lot more keener than we do.”
Erickson was referring to the weekend’s 13-minute, organized display of fireworks at Town Center. He wasn’t suggesting that such displays should be ended, but that animals should not be forgotten—especially when more localized, less sanctioned firecrackers are set off in neighborhoods every July 4th, a concern another resident raised in hopes of having those explosions better controlled.
Best line of the evening: City Council member Holsey Moorman raising the issue of police dogs: “I have a neighbor that’s a K-9 officer, and he brings the dog home with him. But when he walks the dog, he doesn’t have it on a leash. He says the dog is under verbal command. And the leash is a bone in the dog’s mouth. But nothing keeps that dog from dropping the bone and going for my bone.”
He was assured that off-duty police dogs are required to be leashed like any other.