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Sikeston's new animal ordinace puts bite on owners of cats, dogs

Sunday, May 18, 2003

SIKESTON - If you've never seen a cat walked on a leash, you may very well get your chance in a couple weeks.

Amendments to Sikeston's animal control ordinance approved by the City Council recently go into effect June 5, according to Tom Bridger, public works director.

"I don't want to surprise people," Bridger said. "We're trying to get the word out."

Most of the amendments were just "cleaning up and straightening up of the animal code - a lot of it was clarifications more than anything," Bridger said. But there are some changes. "Now there's a leash law, so if it's not in a fenced yard, it will have to be leashed - and it includes cats."

The amended animal control ordinance now defines things like adequate food, water and shelter, Bridger said. The ordinance requires the shelter to comply with the USDA standards - a roof, four sides and a floor, sheltering the animal from heat, cold and the direct rays of the sun.

Appropriate fencing is also defined, requiring electrified or barbed wires to be inaccessible to the public.

The amendments receiving the most attention are the ones defining and regulating dangerous dogs, however.

According to the ordinance, "dangerous dogs" include pit bulls, pit bull mixes and any dog designated by the animal control officer as being dangerous.

A dog may be designated as dangerous if:

* There are records of it biting hard enough to break the skin without provocation;

* It has ever killed another domestic animal without provocation;

* It is a dog used for fighting or trained to fight;

* It is used primarily to guard property, unless it is owned by a governmental or law enforcement agency;

* It has a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked;

* If it chases or approaches in a menacing fashion or with an attack attitude when provoked;

* If it has three separate instances of being unrestrained or uncontrolled off the owner's premises.

"Any breed can be classified as a dangerous dog depending on how they are, how they act," Bridger said.

While fines for violations of the animal control ordinance range from $50 to $500, failure to register a dangerous dog will result in immediate seizure and impoundment of the animal in addition to a $500 fine, even on the first offense, Bridger said.

Dangerous dog owners will have to post "beware of dog" signs within 30 days of the amended animal control going into effect, and registration of dangerous dogs with Animal Control is required within 60 days.

Bridger said the registration form requires two color photos; the name and address of the owner; the address of where the dog stays; proof of homeowners or renters insurance coverage on the dog; proof of shots and vaccinations; and adequate confinement for the animal.

Dangerous dogs must be kept indoors or in a secure, enclosed and locked pen or kennel except when leashed and muzzled or being walked in a fenced backyard, Bridger said.

If a dangerous dog is kept outdoors, the pen or kennel must have secure sides; a secured top attached to the sides; and a secure bottom or floor attached to the sides or the sides must be embedded at least two feet deep in the ground.

If a dangerous dog is kept indoors, it can't be kept on a porch, patio or any part of the house or structure that allows the dog to exit or enter on its own. It also unlawful to keep such a dog inside with open windows or where a screened window or door is the only obstacle preventing the dog from leaving the structure, according to Bridger.

"We've been trying to identify locations where these animals are kept," Bridger said, adding that code Enforcement and Animal Control have been attempting to make verbal contact with known owners. City officials plan to send out letters to known dangerous dog owners along with registration forms, he explained.

Bridger said it is not the city's intention to ban these animals, but some residents are apparently finding it not worth the effort to comply with the new restrictions. "Several people have already gotten rid of the animals," he said. "The goal is just making the owner be more responsible."

The amended ordinance also adds to the list of prohibited exotic animals, such as non-human primates; lions, tigers; leopards, bobcats, hyenas - "any kind of deadly animal," Bridger said. "It's kind of a health and safety issue."

Other provisions will allow the city to "try and recuperate some of our cost" of medical attention for the animals picked up by Animal Control or taken because of neglect.

For questions regarding the amended animal control amendment, call Bridger or Ken Fowler at 471-2174.