Fort Smith Director calls for city to not implement animal ordinance

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,588 views 

Fort Smith City Director Lavon Morton said at board study session Tuesday (July 27) he would rather the city develop a collaborative program with city partners to promote spaying and neutering pets than have an animal ordinance.

“(I would like to see us) work with Kitties and Kanines and perhaps our other partners to develop a collaborative spay and neuter program where we encourage citizens to spay and neuter their pets without a mandatory rule at least at this time,” Morton said. “In the long run that’s what I think we need to do.”

The board adopted an ordinance in 2019 related to pet licensing for dogs and cats. Included in that ordinance are pet licensing fees, though a program for the administration and issuance of such pet licenses has not yet been implemented by the city.

“We spent a lot of time developing the license program that we wanted to implement, and it did take into account senior citizens, fixed income residents and some other things. However, the licensing company basically came to us with a one-size-fits-all (program) that made it so that none of what we wanted to do to take into account the financial circumstances of our citizens would be included in the program. It would have been a great benefit to the licensing company, but I don’t think it would have been a program that would have been what we were trying to achieve,” Morton said.

The animal ordinance passed in August 2019 made it unlawful for any dog or cat to be allowed to run free throughout the city by its owner. The animal control ordinance required all dogs and cats over the age of 4 months in the city of Fort Smith to be licensed. To receive a license, pets must have proof of current rabies vaccine and be microchipped. It set fees at $10 for the life of the pet if the pet is altered and microchipped and allowed for a waiver for microchipping a pet if the owner’s veterinarian deems it unsafe for that pet. If the pet is unaltered and microchipped, the license fee is $60 annually. Provisions are made for pet owners 65 and older, with licensing fee for altered microchipped pets being free and a $20 annual fee for unaltered microchipped pets.

At the time, City Administrator Carl Geffken said the ordinance stresses the need for two forms of identification on dogs and cats — microchipping and tags, which will help animal control officers find the animal’s owner more easily.

As for penalties, if a dog or cat is picked up by animal control and taken to the shelter, there will be a $50 fee 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. There is no fee for licensed, altered and microchipped animals, but the owner may have to pay a fee to the shelter for impoundment.

The ordinance states that “no dog or cat impounded at the city’s designated impoundment facility may be released from impoundment without a valid license.” The ordinance makes provisions for owners of a dog or cat who resides in the city for 60 days or less, stating they are not required to purchase a license and license tag. When licensed, pet owners will receive a license tag to display on the pets collar showing they are licensed. The owner’s name and address will be tied in records to that tag.

DocuPet, the registration company the city proposed using for the licenses, proposed to the city a flat $10 fee annually for a pet license. The board voted in 2020 to put aside all pet licensing fees until this year. The issue has not yet been addressed by the board in 2021.

In 2019, the city also entered into a two-year contract with Kitties and Kanines Shelter as the city’s animal shelter. 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 will 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.

In the event the shelter stops accepting animals from animal control because of overcrowding for six consecutive days, the city will receive a refund from KKS in the amount of 1/30th of the monthly rate per day.

GaeVon Hoover with Kitties and Kanines addressed the board Tuesday, noting the shelter, which consists of two buildings at 4800 S. 46th St., currently houses 335 animals, with 85 currently being fostered in a home. The shelter averages 200-240 in the shelter each month, with 75-100 adoptions a month at the shelter.

“We’ve been lucky because we have a lot of good partners in about six states,” Hoovers said, noting the shelter transports dogs at least three times a month. “Transports let us save lives because we are taking our dogs to no-kill shelters.”

Kitties and Kanines is a full-service shelter for homeless pets in Fort Smith. It takes in animals from animal control, from Fort Smith residents who bring in lost pets and Fort Smith residents who surrender pets, Hoover said. All animals brought to the shelter are checked for ID and a microchip with every effort made to return the animal to its owner.

All animals brought into the shelter are microchipped unless their owner is found. When owners come to collect their pet, the shelter offers to microchip them. This has resulted in around 3,000 pets being microchipped in the past two years, Hoover said. She added that only three or four owners have refused the microchipping.

“The best way to get an animal back (to its owner) in our town is to microchip the animal,” Hoover said, noting the shelter is returning more animals to their owners and adopting more dogs. “We’re glad to see that shift and getting more dogs out to people in our community.”

This year, the shelter has started outreach programs. Three months ago, the shelter started at a free microchip clinic on one Saturday a month. They average 100-150 microchip services a week, Hoover said. Four weeks ago, they started a low-cost vaccination clinic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Monday that offers vaccinations, worming and microchips to anyone, she said.

Volunteers also trap feral cats from the 28 feral cat colonies in the city, bring them to the shelter to be spayed and neutered and return them to where they were trapped, Hoover said. All feral cats that are spayed or neutered have their ears clipped for identification. Cats that test positive for feline leukemia are euthanized, she said.

Shelter administration also works to be completely transparent of shelter activities. It has a portal that lists every animal at the shelter and information on the animal, including intake, medical, history and adoption/transportation information. The Fort Smith Police Department is a partner on the portal, which allows them access to the shelter’s numbers and what it is doing, Hoover said.

“We are doing our best to take in all the animals we can and to take care of them,” she said. “We feel good about our numbers…, and we feel good about our outreach programs. We are hoping that we could possibly ask for another contract to continue and maybe even talk about trying to find a way to build a shelter for this town.”

Geffken said he believes the shelter “has been and is a success.”

“They have about 335 animals, and this is an office building and a building behind it. Still the cost per capita for us is still much less than any other city (in the state), especially up in Northwest Arkansas. I do think the next step we need to start to consider is we pursue a purposefully built shelter and how would that function and who would do it,” Geffken said.

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