Friday, November 16, 2007

Legislative Efforts

One of the many things I do is work towards the establishment of sane, rational dog legislation, and try to oppose laws and ordinances that just won't work. While working on my newest posting I wrote the following letter to the Palm Beach (FL) Council regarding a bad set of animal ordinance changes they are considering. If this letter can help anyone else, feel free to steal it as you wish, or contact me and I will try and help in your particular case.

Jim

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Palm Beach Council:

You have before you a daunting task. You are trying your best to raise the quality of life for all of the residents of Palm Beach, increase the safety of those citizens, and still balance the needs and desires of the pet-owning segment of that same population. You are under pressure to do something, take some action, respond to the perceived needs of that community. The status quo is not working, and your constituents have noticed.

Yet you feel as if you have limited tools at your disposal. The traditional response to animal problems is to increase licensing fees, punish owners with onerous and conflicting legislation, hammer the 'evil breeders', whomever they might be, and finally ban...something.

If I might digress a moment, the mental health industry defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. That label accurately describes traditional animal legislation and response. And it still isn't working.

I would ask the Palm Beach Council to consider somthing radical. Try a new method that hasn't failed miserable all across the county.

There is a city that sounds like a fantasy. With a population of 1.2 million people, they have an amazing pet environment. Their Animal Services Division is completely self supporting, and Animal Services give the local Humane Society a quarter million dollars support a year. They have a 95% licensing compliance. Their bite rates are consistently dropping, despite constant population growth. They have no breed specific legislation. They have no mandatory spay/neuter. They have no breeder regulation legislation. They have a constant waiting list for adoptions of the few animals that come available. And in that city of 1.2 million people, they only euthanized a total of 238 dogs last year. Period.

Where is this? Calgary, Alberta. How have they done it? They have secured the buy in of their citizens and achieved massive cooperation by providing several things, most importantly by making animal licensing a valuable commodity, backed by an aggressive and dedicated education effort.

The program is more detailed that we have room here for, but let me touch on some of the issues.

Licensing has value. All proceeds from animal licensing and fines go directly to Animal Services to use for the animals. None of those funds go to the City's General Fund. Owners feel that their fees are being applied properly, where they need to be. Licensing fees are reasonable-$52.00 yearly for unaltered animals, with a discount to $31.00 yearly if your animal is altered. No reclamation fees; if your animal is licensed and picked up loose it gets a free ride home. They understand that animals get loose from time to time, but if the animal is licensed it is taken home directly. 80% of all animals picked up on the street are returned home, never to even arrive at the shelter. The owners of any animals that are regular pickups are targeted for intensive education efforts, backed by the ability to provide substantial fines ($250.00 per incident) if the owner fails to respond to the remediation and assistance. Spay and neuter proceedures are discounted for animals that are licensed, as are some veterinary care costs.

Education is stressed. Animal Services workers do not see themselves as 'dogcatchers' but as responsible animal ownership educators. Education ranges from classes and formal programs to intervention at the street level. Pre-adoption counseling is required, and counseling is mandated during the citation process for those owners who run afoul of the ordinances. No one just pays a ticket and walks away. Bite prevention and safety is taught in schools, focusing on children since kids are the primary victims of dog bite injury.

A strong leash law is supported by City provided dog parks and off leash recreation areas, all of which are only available to licensed pets. Humane and sensible confinement methods are stressed, taught, and enforced. Animal cruelty statutes and ordinances are strongly enforced, and local magistrates are supportive, making such enforcement meaningful, and the City realizes the importance of such inforcement, supporting it strongly.

This has not been an overnight trip for Calgary. It has taken fourteen years to reach the current state of events. But it is an achievable goal. The legislation coming before you is an opportunity to take the first steps.

INSTEAD of seeking legislation that regulates breed, focus on legislation that regulates the only thing that will make a difference-human behavior. Place responsibility where it belongs, on the owners of dangerous and aggressive animals. SUPPORT the enforcement of existing animal cruelty statutes.

INSTEAD of passing legislation that places an onerous burden on those who are generally responsible but have occasional errors, educate them, and encourage them to participate in the solution by buying in to reasonable licensing for their pets. SUPPORT the community by giving real value for pet licensing. Make pet owners want to participate. Give them something of value, like pet return, educational services, and a sense that their license fees actually go towards helping the animals.

INSTEAD of pushing away those who are on the edge of compliance by threatening them with issues such as mandatory spay and neuter, bring them into the fold by provideing incentives for voluntary compliance. SUPPORT compliance by not only educating them on the wisdom and health of voluntary spay/neuter, but give them real world incentives for cooperation, such as reduced licensing fees for voluntarily altered animals, discounts for local vet care for having licensed and altered animals, and perhaps other city sponsored value such as free participation in dog parks, etc.

INSTEAD of alienating responsible pet fanciers, making them stumbling blocks to your efforts, include them and reward their responsibile actions. SUPPORT active dog sport competitors with intact animals by granting the same licensing fees as those with altered animals as long as the dogs are being actively campaigned. Provide sane and reasonable exceptions to higher licensing for those who have animals that have a quantifiable value to their breeds and communities. Responsible fanciers are not only voters, but can be a city's best allies in the fight against irresponsible breeding, behavior and threats to public safety.

Please consider the above suggestions. The whole purpose of pet related legislation is to enhance the safety of the public, pet owning and otherwise, and to increase the quality of life for all, animal and human, in your community. To restate what I said before, why keep doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result? Step forward and start the process of achieving a different, better result.

If I may help in any way please feel free to contact me. My phone is 904-476-7655. Please feel free to view my website at www.canineaggression.org

Thank you.

James W. Crosby