Chattanooga animal ordinance fails again in city council

Chattanooga animal ordinance fails again in city council

July 24th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Chattanooga City Hall

Photo by Meghan Brown

After mounting criticism from local and national groups that the city's plan to enforce permits for dog breeders, rescue workers and shelters was vague and even unconstitutional, city officials killed the ordinance.

They then buried it under another study committee.

Councilman Moses Freeman made a motion at Tuesday night's City Council meeting to "officially kill" the animal ordinance explaining that it couldn't come back up in the same form.

Then Chairman Yusuf Hakeem clarified: "The motion is not to kill dogs but to kill the ordinance."

The first animal ordinance was brought after seven months of work from the city's appointed Animal Control Board. It was rejected two weeks ago after city officials quibbled over whether the city should have chickens in backyards.

The new ordinance was voted down after criticism that claimed the rules were unenforceable, and one comment compared it to a "Gestapo inspection."

"In making a blanket ordinance, it cripples those operations who are providing a real service to the community," wrote local rescuer Cynthia Brundage, in a communitywide email. "We will find it difficult to recruit volunteers to foster if they know they are subject to Gestapo inspections."

McKamey Executive Director Karen Walsh, who worked with the board on the ordinance, said she is disappointed with the public reaction, explaining there are no surprise inspections inside someone's home that violate a person's constitutional rights.

"All I've heard about today is there is an inspection involved," Walsh said. "How do you give a permit without knowing the inspection is met?"

Since December, the ordinance was put together by a nine-member board that former Mayor Ron Littlfield enacted and commissioned to revamp the city's animal control ordinance into one code section.

Now Animal Control Board Chairman Michael Mallen blames the previous administration for over-tasking the board, who are lay people, to write laws.

"This board was staffed to hear permit issues and wasn't staffed to write a new code section," Mallen said. "I think that has finally become clear to the council."

At Tuesday's meeting, City Council members said they should have used a broader group of professionals, attorneys and local animal groups to write the ordinance.

Councilman Russell Gilbert also said chicken talk distracted from the real questions within the ordinance.

At Tuesday's meeting, local breeder Pam Gibson spoke to the council saying she was concerned the way the ordinance was written that people would lose their dogs from the steep fees.

The American Kennel Club also sent a letter to the council questioning whether a person who breeds and sells a single animal would have to get a permit and be subject to current zoning requirements.

Walsh questioned where local breeders and rescue workers were during the last seven months when the board opened up their meetings to the public.

City officials didn't give a time frame for new talks about the ordinance and how much of the Animal Control Board's work would be used in future studies, but Freeman suggested the city form a task force to further study the issue.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.