Whether you think animal ordinances are great or burdensome, the fact of the matter is they exist for a reason. Animals are part of the community around them. Dog parks are growing in popularity. Neighborhoods are full of pets in yards, on leashes, and sometimes on the loose (or “at-large” for the legal term). Animals, pets, companion animals, furry friends, etc. are part of society and sometimes owners have to take responsibility for the actions of their pets.
Too often people—owners and non-owners alike—believe the wrong things about animal ordinances or animal control. It is easy to understand why. Things get misconstrued when rules change to include new or different things, maybe even repeal an ordinance, and every city handles things differently. Sometimes there is even a big difference between animal control officers in the same town.
Here are some basic questions and misconceptions answered to make things a little bit clearer:
“Animal Control Officers cannot enter my yard without my permission.”
In certain situations, they can. If an Animal Control Officer (ACO) sees an animal in distress or a violation in plain view, they can go onto your property or yard to help the animal or take the animal from the premises. The ACO will usually attempt to locate the owner before taking the animal and issue a ticket for the violations. An ACO can even ask for a judge to sign a search warrant for the premises if there is probable cause to enter for the health and welfare of an animal.
“City licenses are basically just a revenue stream and don’t help anyone.”
Possibly. But let’s think of what costs your city incurs on a regular basis. Dog parks, animal control, animal shelter, prosecuting abuse and neglect cases, etc. Also, a city licenses help ensure your pet is your pet. Similar to a microchip, they are a source of identification for your pet if it were to get lose. In KCMO, there is a free ride home program for pets with current city licenses for the first at-large offense (meaning your pet got lose and was picked up by an ACO).
“Are there any illegal breeds?”
At the state level, there are several types of exotic breeds and dangerous animals banned in Missouri (see here). Sorry if you really wanted a pet ocelet. There are bans on domestic pets, as well. Unfortunately, some private companies and cities ban certain breeds of dogs. Private companies, namely rental and property agencies, ban “dangerous” breeds to protect other tenants and keep their insurance payments low. Cities ban dogs in an attempt to curtail dog attacks. Here is an ASPCA article on Breed Specific Legislation: https://www.aspca.org/fight-cruelty/dog-fighting/breed-specific-legislation
“Can any pet be a service animal?”
Short answer is no. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that defines service animals as only specially trained dogs and sometimes miniature horses. Furthermore, the law states that emotional support animals are not service animals under the ADA. This means you cannot have a dog go with you everywhere and claim it helps with your depression or anxiety. Should there be dogs to help with anxiety? Yes. Are there any formal requirements? Not really, which is what makes it difficult for owners who need an ESA versus those who are abusing the system. However, let’s avoid what some people did in my hometown of Nixa, MO and bring a snake into a restaurant. Here is an excerpt from the Dept. of Justice’s Factsheet clarifying the revised ADA as of 2010:
The rule defines ‘service animal’ as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals. The final rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA. The rule permits the use of trained miniature horses as alternatives to dogs, subject to certain limitations. To allow flexibility in situations where using a horse would not be appropriate, the final rule does not include miniature horses in the definition of ‘service animal.
To learn more about service animals in Missouri, go here: http://disability.mo.gov/serviceanimals.htm.
“I can’t go to jail for animal ordinance violations.”
Yes, you can. I have personally seen it happen in KCMO. Is it likely or common? No. That said, get an attorney or ask for a legal aid attorney if you cannot afford one. The judge or animal control officer will let you know if an attorney is needed. For any “no license” or “animal at-large” tickets, you will not go to jail if you take care of it. Other more serious offenses? You could get shock time over a weekend, especially if you cannot pay or ignore the fine. Some ordinances—usually abuse and neglect ordinances—carry a maximum sentence of six (6) months in jail and/or a fine of $250-500 for each violation. Let’s say you go out of town and your dog-sitter never shows up. If you live in KCMO and leave your dog outside without food, water, and shelter while you’re out of town for the weekend, you run a serious risk of getting into legal trouble. No food is one violation. No water is another violation. No shelter is yet another violation. And you could get ticketed for each of these per day. That could be six (6) separate violations! That’s $3,000.00 plus court costs or three years in jail if they do a consecutive sentence. Granted, that’s the worst possible scenario. Without an attorney to help you, that could be a possibility, though.
“This dog barks all the time! What can I do?”
Look up your local city noise ordinance or animal noise ordinance to see what are designated quiet times. In KCMO, there are certain decibel levels acceptable between 10:00 PM and 7:00 AM, but any continuous or excessive noises by animals within 100 yards of the offended person is a violation during that time. First, if possible, contact the neighbor to let him or her know this is happening! Sometimes the person is not aware. If you have a Home Owners Association (HOA) in your neighborhood or complex, contact them to speak to the neighbor. We urge people to speak to their neighbors first to solve the problem to avoid escalating the matter and causing problems in your neighborhood. If contacting the neighbor or HOA does not solve anything, call animal control to give a statement in order for the issue to be investigated. Write down all the times it wakes/keeps you up.
If you have other questions you need answered or wish to have an attorney help you with animal ordinance tickets you received, contact us!