New Orleans City Council could update pet ownership laws on Thursday

After months of delays, an update to the city’s pet ownership rules could be voted on during Thursday’s City Council meeting.

The Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee voted Monday to send the proposed legislation to the full council for its consideration during its regular meeting. The new laws would include updates to existing ones, such as vaccinations and tethering, and includes new rules to govern things such as what to do with dogs seized for fighting.

The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which handles animal control for the city, approached the council in October 2011 about updating the existing laws that have changed little since they were introduced in 1956, said Councilwoman Susan Guidry.

The last updates were more than 15 years ago.

Meetings to discuss the proposed updates were held late last year, but any vote on the matter was delayed. The proposed ordinance was withdrawn as stakeholders began to give feedback on the topic.

“Oh my did we get feedback,” Guidry said during Monday’s meeting.

The newest laws added to the ordinance would provide for new minimum standards of care for pets and rules for dogs seized because of dog fighting.

If the LA/SPCA finds during an inspection that an animal owner is not in compliance with general pet ownership rules, the LA/SPCA will notify the owner of the violations. If the owner does not correct them within five days, the animal or animals will be temporarily taken from the owner, according to an amendment to the proposed ordinance.

The animals will be returned to the owner only after the LA/SPCA determines that the owner is in compliance with the law or a municipal judge determines there was no violation, according to the amendment.

Additionally, the amendment to the ordinance says the owner must pay the LA/SPCA for care provided to an animal or animal while in its custody, unless a judge rules there was no violation.

Under the amendment to the proposed ordinance, the LA/SPCA would also now have the ability to take possession of dogs seized in connection with a charge of dog fighting.

The LA/SPCA can find a new home for any dog taken for that reason if several conditions are met:

The LA/SPCA or another rescue group have acquired legal possession of the dog.

The dog must be neutered or spayed and microchipped at the expense of the agency, new owner or rescue group.

The dog must be evaluated by a certified animal behaviorist or veterinarian who has experience with abused or fighting dogs.

The adopting owner must be given notice that the dog was seized in connection with a charge of dog fighting and be given notice of any recommendations in the evaluator’s report in addition to being given a copy of the report.

Previously, those dogs were considered “vicious” under the law and were euthanized, LA/SPCA Executive Director Ana Zorrilla told the committee.

The new law that deals with dogs seized from fighting rings allows for them and their new owners time to adjust to one another.

“At the end of the day, we want what’s best for both,” Zorrilla said.

Guidry said that no other city in the country has a law that deals with rehabilitating fighting dogs. Others, she said, will look to New Orleans for guidance on the matter.

Other key changes in the 42-page ordinance that would amend the city code include a reduction in the frequency at which pets must be vaccinated, increased standards of care to help keep pets safe during extreme weather conditions, updated tethering requirements, feral cat control policies and a new designation for “potentially dangerous” dogs.

Under the proposed ordinance, pet owners would only need to vaccinate their animals every three years. They would still need to get a vaccination license annually, though.

Feral cat populations also would be affected by the proposed ordinance. Cats that have been ear tipped — or have a small part of an ear snipped off to identify them as part of a feral colony — and are spayed or neutered and properly vaccinated would be allowed outside so long as a caregiver removes fecal matter and the cats do not become nuisances to neighbors.

A designation of a “potentially dangerous” dog would be added to the city code’s language.

Those dogs would be identified by unprovoked bites to humans or another animal that result in a minor injury, or if they chase a person on public property and cause injury.