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After nearly a year since the issue was discussed at a work session, the Beatrice City Council will examine a new animal ordinance at its Monday meeting.

The proposed ordinance was brought up in response to claims that special legislation - possibly even a ban - should be placed on pit bull breeds of dogs. The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance during Monday’s regular meeting, at 7 p.m. at the Beatrice Public Schools Administration Building.

While the ordinance wouldn’t ban people from having pit bulls as pets, it will require various breed-specific laws for pit bull owners.

City attorney Tobias Tempelmeyer said a major difference in the proposed ordinance is it would automatically classify pit bulls as “potentially-dangerous” animals.

“The ordinance does state that pit bulls will have the same guidelines that a potentially dangerous animal would have to follow,” Tempelmeyer said. “Basically, there’s a permit you have to get, registration and an insurance requirement.”

The annual registration fee for a potentially dangerous animal or pit bull is $25. 

The fee is in addition to the standard dog license fee, which is $5 for spayed or neutered dogs and $20 for all other dogs over the age of six months.

The insurance requirement is typically included in a homeowner’s insurance policy according to State Farm Insurance agent Cami Saathoff.

“There are homeowners policies where if they own the house, it covers that liability and is not separate charge, whether it be for a pit bull or a German shepherd,” Saathoff said. “Every company does it differently, but underlying consequences would happen if a bite occurred. Anytime a company pays a claim, they look and see what needs to be done.”

Saathoff said every situation is unique, but if a bite occurred, the homeowner could be forced to choose between giving up the animal or losing his or her insurance policy.

Non-homeowners who keep pit bulls as pets can be covered by renters insurance, which can cost as little as $10 per month, depending on the provider.

The maximum penalty for not following regulations for dangerous and potentially dangerous animals is jail, not to exceed six months, a $500 maximum fine, but not to be less than $200 and the animal may be put down.

Tempelmeyer worked with animal control officer Steve Bragg, City Council member David “Pede” Catlin and Humane Society executive director Gina Grone to put the ordinance together.

Tempelmeyer said Grone was not a supporter of the breed-specific portion of the ordinance.

“The Humane Society has made it clear that they don’t like that part, but they understand it and they’ll make their plea during the council meetings,” Tempelmeyer said. “I expect you’ll have some people that step up and voice their opinion one way or the other. (The ordinance) is by no means in its final form today. There will be an opportunity for council members to amend it.  I’m sure somebody else is thinking of something that we maybe just haven’t addressed and it’ll give us an opportunity to amend it as needed.”

Tempelmeyer added the ordinance will likely be read at the next three council meetings before a final decision is made.

Grone said Humane Society representatives will be present at Monday’s meeting, but may wait until the next meeting to make its case against breed-specific laws.

“In the research I’ve done, when areas that have enacted breed-specific legislation go back and do a study of how effective it is, it really hasn’t improved safety that much,” Grone said. “It’s easy to see how people can become scared, but I don’t support breed-specific legislation. I think everything can be covered in a neutral law.

“There are some pretty heavy restrictions that will make it hard for even responsible owners to have one in this city. It’s going to place a burden on the shelter, too, because if enacted, it’ll be very hard for us to adopt these dogs out. There’s also the possibility for much higher abandonment.”

Tempelmeyer said pit bull cases in 2010, including one pit bull, Tyson, who was stolen from the Humane Society before later being put down, provided perspective on what needed to be changed or clarified in the city’s animal ordinance.

“(Previous cases) helped shed light on the fact that there were times when it was difficult under our current ordinance to effectively deal with some of those types of animals, as far as getting them deemed a potentially dangerous animal,” Tempelmeyer said. “It shed some light that maybe we need to enhance our definitions a little bit better.”

In addition to breed-specific legislation, the proposed ordinance has a few other minor changes, most of which are clarifications.

“The proposed ordinance has more of a definition for dangerous animals and potentially dangerous animals,” Tempelmeyer said. “That is something we’ve had some difficulties with on our current code. A dangerous animal is one that has killed or inflicted severe injury on a human being, killed a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner’s property, has previously been determined to be dangerous and subsequently bites, attacks or endangers humans or domestic animals.”

Tempelmeyer added the council hopes to clear up ambiguity on which animals are declared dangerous.

“Potentially dangerous is an animal that, when unprovoked, inflicts a wound on a human or a domestic animal or chases a person on public grounds with aggressive or dangerous behavior,” Tempelmeyer said. “Those are the type of things we’re looking for. In the current ordinance, they aren’t well defined. There’s a lot of ambiguity as to what is a dangerous animal that makes it difficult to actually declare any type of animal dangerous.”

The new ordinance also places a limit on the number of pets an owner can have, limiting them to five, though exceptions can be made.

“The limit is set at five in the proposed ordinance, but you can get a permit to have additional animals and you can also be grandfathered in with animals that you have today,” Tempelmeyer explained. “If you have five and you want to add a sixth, you can come down and apply for a permit, and if granted you can have that sixth animal. There will be an inspection done by either a police officer or the animal control officer, just to ensure that there’s space for the animal, it will be sanitary and those types of things.”

The permit for each additional dog or cat in addition to five will cost a pet owner $20.

In addition to current owners of more than five pets being grandfathered in, under the new ordinance, a similar rule would be put in place for large animals, such as horses, cows and other traditional farm animals.

“If you have (a large animal) you would be grandfathered in,” Tempelmeyer said. “As an example, if you have had a horse and it would pass away, you could get a new horse. You couldn’t get two horses, but you could have one. If you were to sell the land, the new owner could come in and have a horse there. The idea is you can retain the number of animals that you have today, but you can’t grow the operation.”

Tempelmeyer said if the proposed ordinance is passed in its current form, 90 percent of pet owners would be unaffected.

“The end result is about the same, but this ordinance spells it out better,” Tempelmeyer said. “The same rules are still here, but the definitions are enhanced a little better.”

Grone agreed, saying that with the exception of the pit bull legislation, the proposed ordinance is very strong.

“As a whole, I think the ordinance is a good set of rules,” Grone said. “I’d rather see us stick with the very good dangerous dog law we have, without the pit bull wording. I understand the fear, but I’m coming from a point of experience of having worked with these dogs. If I hadn’t, maybe I’d fall into that fear response, too.”

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