Fort Smith Board approves new animal control measures, shelter contract

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 2,318 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted Tuesday (Aug. 6) to pass an animal control ordinance as well as a contract for sheltering animals picked up by Fort Smith Animal Control.

The first ordinance will prohibit the running of large of cats; establish identification and annual licensing requirement for dogs and cats; provide a fee schedule for such licenses; and make further provisions regarding animal control in the city of Fort Smith. The second item approved a resolution for a two-year contract with Kitties and Kanines Shelter Inc. for the city’s animal shelter and impound needs.

Both the ordinance and the resolution passed with a vote of 6-1 with Director Kevin Settle (at large, position 6) voted against both issues because of fees assessed against pet owners who have animals picked up by animal control but who are in compliance with all new animal control laws.

The new animal control ordinance came out of recommendations from the Animal Services Advisory Board with major changes, said City Administrator Carl Geffken. One of the major changes in ordinance is that pet licenses for pets that are spayed or neutered, microchipped and current on rabies vaccinations will be $10. An ordinance originally proposed by the ASAB suggested that license be free.

The proposed ordinance had that $10 fee being an annual fee. Director Robyn Dawson proposed an amendment to the ordinance that made that a one-time fee, saying an annual fee would be an unfair burden to the citizens of the city. That amendment was passed 7-0. The passed ordinance also sets licensing fees for a pet that is unaltered and microchipped at $60 per pet annually.

There are provisions for breeder licenses, the revocation of licenses and civil penalties for animals running at large that are based on whether a pet is properly licensed, altered and microchipped. According to the ordinance, a breeder license issued by the city for an intact dog or cat at a cost of $500.00 per dog or cat will be $500 per animal. The breeder license must be accompanied by a business license issued by the city and must be renewed annually. The passed ordinance also addresses cats, basically enacting a leash law for cats, which the ordinance suggested by the ASAB did not.

An amendment to the ordinance allows for proper rescue organizations to conduct trap, alter and release programs on feral cats.

As for penalties, if a dog or cat is picked up by animal control and taken to the shelter, there will be a $25 fee for licensed, altered and microchipped; $50 for an animal that is licensed and altered but not microchipped; $75 for an animal that is licensed and microchipped but not altered; $100 for an animal that is licensed but not microchipped nor altered; and $150 for an animal that not licensed and microchipped regardless of whether the dog or cat is altered.

Settle objected to the $25 fee for licensed, altered and microchipped animals, saying it penalizes a pet owner for obeying the law whose dog or cat accidently escaped.

Dr. Jon Remer, with Remer Veterinarian Hospital, and a former member of the animal services advisory board, told Talk Business and Politics there are problems with the ordinance.

“What is the benchmark for success? What do they consider a success? Revenue generated? Number of animals taken to impoundment facility?,” Remer asked.

He also brought up that with no plans for enforcement, the city was going to have to rely on pet owners doing the right thing.

“The only way they are going to know is if your animal is running loose,” Remer said. “It’s a feel good ordinance. They can say, look we did this. But I don’t think it will work.”

There were more questions raised about the resolution to enter into a contract with KKS. Director Keith Lau (Ward 1) said he had qualms about entering into an “open contract” wherein KKS could, with three days’ notice, refuse to accept any animals from the city if the shelter was at capacity while the city not being able to terminate the contract if such an occurrence were to happen. The board agreed to look at revising the contract to address those concerns at the next board study session.

As it stands, the contract allows for the city paying KKS a monthly fee of $45,566 as reimbursement of anticipated fixed costs associated with the operation of the KKS facility as well as fees per animals brought to the shelter. Those fees would include $45 per animal on the first day an animal is brought to the shelter for tests and vaccinations and $10 per animal for days two through five. If an animal stays the entire five contracted days without being returned to the owner, the total cost to the city for that animal with be $85. The city also agreed to pay a one-time $50,000 fee to KKS to help offset the start-up cost for the facility.

According to Geffken, U.S. cities spend between $10 and $12 per capita on animal control and shelter services. With this contract, Fort Smith will spend about $10.24 per capita in 2020 based on projected cost of $650,000 for shelter services. In comparison, Springdale spends $10.06; Fayetteville $12.63; North Little Rock $13.59; and Washington County $10.13, Geffken said.

Brenda Altman, vice president of Friends of Kitties and Kanines, said the shelter would not euthanize animals in order to make space for another animal. Animals at the shelter would be euthanized if they were in poor health or injured severely, conditions that would make the ability for them unable to have a quality life, or if they were deemed vicious and not adoptable.

The shelter will have space for 100 dogs when it opens, but with more kennels coming, they would have room for 25 more. Altman said they will work toward grants and more building space that would allow them to hold more animals. She said this would strictly be a Fort Smith facility and would not accept animals from outside the city for at least the initial two-year contract period. She also said the facility would not accept animals from the public for the first two months it was opened in order to accommodate animals from Fort Smith animal control.

The shelter will begin working to transport animals to other areas for adoption and will adopt animals out of the shelter, though no adoption fees have yet been set, Altman said.

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