After three years of community meetings and research, Tulare County Animal Services (TCAS) presented its updated Animal Ordinances to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on April 9.
Patrick Hamblin, TCAS Manager, said the two main goals of the new ordinances were to address pet overpopulation and to improve the health and well being of the county’s dogs. After a lively public hearing, with the supervisors having to retreat to closed session, the board voted 5-0 in favor of the changes.
Cassie Heffington from Kings County Animal Services listened in and was so impressed that she planned on presenting TCAS’ new ordinances to her board of supervisors for possible adoption.
To update the ordinances, TCAS formed the Animal Services Advisory Committee, a 12 -member board that met for two years reaching out to the Humane Society, researching other municipalities’ rules, and refining the new document. TCAS also had an active presence online and encouraged community input for each new draft.
Hamblin started his presentation by saying that Tulare County used to have some of the worst kill rates in the country with only 17% of the animals being adopted. Now the rate is 65% said Hamblin, and they are working every day to improve that number.
One tactic to reduce kill rates was to break down barriers to owners getting their pets back from TCAS by lowing administration costs after the animal had been impounded.
Another was to institute mandatory spay and neuter of all pets. Hamblin said that last year 7022 dogs arrived at TCAS and of those more than 2000 were puppies.
Exceptions to the mandatory spay and neuter rule will be made for Police Dogs, dogs that wouldn’t survive the surgery, or an owner that paid for an unaltered permit. Only five unaltered permits will be allowed per owner.
The biggest changes to the ordinances were to the commercial kennel standards.
The new rules reduced the maximum number of dogs from 40 to 25. Of those only five will be allowed to breed.
The new rules also increased the size of the cage where kennel dogs spend most of their lives.
A $100 license fee is imposed on every unaltered dog and before a female dog is allowed to breed she must be examined by a vet. All dogs are required to be implanted with a microchip containing their personal information and breeding history. Such records as veterinary visits, pregnancies, sales and transfers must all be on file at the kennel and on the microchip.
Hamblin said, though fines will be imposed on non compliant kennels, the goal is not financial, but to solve the problem of overpopulation.
In addition to the stricter ordinances, TCAS has already banned selling, bartering, gifting, or transferring of live animals at swap meets.
With only a few exceptions, public comment was very supportive of TCAS and their new ordinances.
BJ Motko, from Central Valley Rescue Railroad, echoed several commenters’ opinion that anyone interested in the humane treatment of animals would not have a problem with the new ordinances.
“There is nothing in this language that will discourage humane breeders,” she said.
Susan Gundy of Visalia congratulated TCAS but wished they would follow their own rules regarding exercise.
The new rules impose a minimum of four hours a week of exercise in commercial kennels. But no such requirement exists at the county shelter, she said, where some dogs never leave their cages.
“Even dogs on lengthy hold for ‘vicious’ behavior should be evaluated for this activity–and should be allowed to interact with their owners if it is deemed not feasible for shelter staff to do so. Anything less is inhumane and causes unnecessary suffering to the dog.”
Gundy also wished the county would revamp its system for contracting for judges and Administrative Review Appeals Officers who rule on impounded dogs.
“It is essential that …..attorneys and judges, contracted to make life or death decisions of dogs, should have verifiable experience and education/training in canine behavior and owner training and be able to deal fairly with the diverse population of dog owners in the county.”
Currently animal control “judges” are hired and paid by the county and have been accused of deciding in favor of their boss rather than in favor of the dog.
Tricia Stever Blattler, Director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, wanted to address the board as a private citizen. She was very supportive of the changes but wanted to see stricter rules for commercial kennels.
She said that the county is a hotbed for unscrupulous breeders and that she has seen the results of over-bred, starving, and sick females picked up by rescue organizations. Huge numbers of animals end up in the county’s shelters, said Stever Blattler, because TCAS has not been able to regulate these breeders.
Ron Abbott, owner of a kennel that has been accused of being a puppy mill, sat in the audience as several speakers took their anger out on him. One woman who ran a Lab rescue in Clovis said she has “five or seven rescues from a breeder in this room.”
While glaring back at Abbott the woman said, “Imagine you are a dog living in a cage your entire life pumping out puppies every six months. I have rescued dogs that walking on grass petrifies them or won’t get into a car.”
Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel had to request the woman address the dais instead of Abbott.
She fully supported the new ordinances but requested TCAS reconsider making the minimum requirements for the cages bigger, especially for the “birthing boxes.”
Two of the speakers were hobby breeders and also directed their anger towards Abbott. Both speakers felt that it was his fault that the kennel ordinances were stricter, making their operations almost impossible. Neither sold their dogs for profit because they considered the dogs part of their family, but both had many more dogs and puppies than will be allowed under the new rules.
When Abbott addressed the board he acknowledged that he has been the focus of a lot of hate. The “animal activists” protest against his kennel just like they protest dairies, he said. “But, I have a licensed kennel and have raised dogs for 20 years. I am living my childhood dream.”
Abbott said that he had no problem following the rules for proper care of his animals or reducing the number to 25 dogs, but didn’t understand the logic behind limiting the number of dogs that can breed to five.
“It doesn’t compute to me,” he said.
Hamblin repeated that the main goal of updating the ordinances was to reduce the number of puppies in Tulare County. But Abbott says he is providing a service for those who want a “specific dog of a specific age.”
Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian asked Abbott how many dogs he currently had. Abbott either avoided answering the question or did not know.
“Somewhere around 30,” he said.
Shuklian then asked how many different types of breeds he had and Abbott again did not answer her question rattling off the names of a few breeds.
The last person to speak during the public hearing outlined the red flags of a puppy mill. An animal advocate from Clovis said that a kennel is a puppy mill if there are more than two breeds, if many females are bred at one time, and if the owner is motivated by profit.
Responsible breeders, she said, improve one particular breed and invest time and effort into each dog.
Tulare County Supervisor Eddie Valero said he lives in the Cutler-Orosi area and there is an abundance of dogs. “Something had to be done to address the issue.”
Shuklian added that it was a long time coming and she wished the rules were more stringent. She was impressed, though, that Kings County wanted to follow our lead.
“It’s not often that Tulare County is seen as progressive,” she said.
Hamblin responded by saying that TCAS is already compiling a list of improvements to the new ordinances that he referred to as a “living document.”
“We will be coming back to the board in a few years to change and improve the ordinances and continue moving forward.”