The Beatrice City Council held its first discussion regarding a proposed new animal ordinance Monday night.
During the hour and 15 minute discussion, the Council heard from multiple members of the community and discussed everything from how to determine the breed of a dog, to if pot-bellied pigs are considered “exotic” animals.
Tobias Tempelmeyer, city attorney, said the main advantage the proposed ordinance has over the current one is better definitions.
“We’ve added a lot more definitions in this proposed ordinance than what was in our previous ordinance,” Tempelmeyer said. “I think our previous ordinance defined three terms. In this one we eliminate some of the ambiguity that’s been out here.”
The bulk of the discussion focused on a proposal to declaring all pit bull breed of dogs to be potentially dangerous animals.
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While the ordinance wouldn’t ban people from having pit bulls as pets, it will require various breed-specific laws for pit bull owners, which has been a well-debated issue since brought up at a work session last year.
Should the ordinance pass in its current form - the first of three readings was held Monday - the annual registration fee for a potentially dangerous animal or pit bulls, which would be defined the same, would be $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.
There would also be an insurance requirement, which is typically included in a pet owner’s renters or home-owner’s insurance.
One person who spoke in opposition to the pit bull section of the ordinance was Gina Grone, Humane Society executive director.
“I would like you to take a look at (the ordinance) without the pit bull wording,” Grone told the Council. “Anything that you want to prohibit in regard to any dogs that fit into that pit bull definition is covered by the dangerous dog ordinance. I think that you can have the results and control that you want without putting undue stresses or pressure on people who own these dogs in the city and are responsible.”
Grone has expressed on multiple occasions that breed specific laws (BSLs) are ineffective and cause more harm than good, and said the law would be better suited without specific pit bull wording.
“Cities that have enacted this have gone back and done studies on how effective it’s been a lot of times find that it really hasn’t improved public safety,” Grone said. “You have the really good law that’s written there. It’s going to be better for the city to have this very strongly worded breed-neutral law that is well enforced.”
Council member Jason Moore, who suggested a possible city-wide ban on all pit bulls last year, pointed out that the suggested ordinance would still allow pit bulls to be raised in Beatrice.
“This isn’t a ban, it’s looked at to be guidelines,” Moore said. “That’s all this is looked at. What the ordinance suggests, is if you want to have a pit bull, you’re allowed to have one, as long as you are a responsible owner. This is pretty much all this is saying.”
After hearing from members of the community opposed to the pit bull portion of the ordinance, Council member Calvin Carey indicated it might be an aspect the ordinance could do without.
“The main thing is you want the pit bull taken out of the language, and I think we can go ahead and adjust that.” Carey said.
The issue of how to determine a dog to be a pit bull was also raised.
Tempelmeyer said guideline set by national kennel clubs would be used to determine if a dog was more than 50 percent pit bull.
Should DNA tests be necessary, he added it would most likely not be the cities responsibility to fund the tests.
If the ordinance passes in its current form, 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.
The proposed ordinance would define a dangerous animal as 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.
A potentially dangerous animal, or pit bull, would defined as 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.
The proposed ordinance also places a limit on the number of pets an owner can have, limiting them to five, though exceptions can be made if a person wanting additional pets applies for an application and passes an inspection declaring the environment fit for more pets.
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.
Current large animals in city limits would be grandfathered in, but no more animals would be allowed.
Council member Allen Langdale praised the proposed ordinance, and the changes it may bring.
“I think this is a big improvement over the ordinance we had before,” Langdale said. “A lot of people spent a lot of time putting this ordinance together. By only reading it once tonight at least we get a chance to get public comments and get people to give us a call and let us know what they think.”