By Tim Hrenchir – Sep 28, 2010
Topeka’s governing body decided without objection Tuesday evening to make changes to city rules for stray cats and dangerous dogs that supporters described as being groundbreaking and progressive.
Mayor Bill Bunten and eight city council members voted 9-0, with Councilman John Alcala being absent because of back problems, to pass a 39-page ordinance amending rules regarding animal control and animal cruelty to enhance public safety, protect animals and save taxpayer dollars.
The ordinance does away with the city’s breed-specific rules requiring owners to obtain special licenses and to implant microchips in any dogs that have the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of any of three types of pit bull dog.
It also allows feral cats to roam free, provided local volunteers have had them vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and an ear cropped for identification. The change was promoted as being a more humane alternative to current practices, which generally result in stray cats being euthanized after being picked up by city animal control officers.
The ordinance was crafted through a team effort involving Councilwoman Karen Hiller, city staff members and a committee of eight citizens who have an interest in animal-related matters. Committee members were among nine people who spoke before the council about the proposal Tuesday, with each expressing support for it.
“This is a groundbreaking ordinance, and it’s going to revolutionize animal welfare in the city of Topeka,” said committee member Mike Bauman, president of the Friends of Hill’s Bark Park organization.
The committee also included University of Kansas law student Katie Bray Barnett, whom Hiller said is nationally recognized as an expert on animal control legislation. Barnett, a graduate of Topeka West High School, said the ordinance before the governing body Tuesday had garnered national attention and was being considered as a potential model ordinance by officials in Ellis, Kan.; Ogden, Utah; Toledo, Ohio; and Douglasville, Ga. Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz said she had been contacted by a Denver City Council member about the ordinance.
Ruth Tessendorf, president of the Topeka Kennel Club, told governing body members Tuesday’s vote was also being watched by a boxer dog group, which was considering holding a show next year at the Kansas Expocentre but wouldn’t be willing to do that if the city kept in place its breed-specific rules for pit bulls.
The passage of Tuesday’s ordinance overturns rules banning the ownership, keeping or harboring of pit bulls that haven’t been licensed with the city and implanted with a microchip. The city had been requiring itself to confine dogs suspects of being pit bulls until any charges against their owners are resolved in Topeka Municipal Court. Assistant city attorney Kyle Smith estimated the passage of Tuesday’s ordinance would save the city $30,000 a year it spends to confine suspected pit bulls at the Helping Hands Humane Society.
The ordinance also changes city cat licensing rules to make it clear that licenses aren’t required for feral cats that show a straight-line cutting of the tip of their left ear to show they have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated.
Smith said the ordinance sanctions a process used successfully in other communities where volunteer groups — not at taxpayer expense — trap feral cats, spay or neuter and vaccinate them, then release them in their original locations after cropping an ear to identify them.
Tuesday’s speakers included Carol Westerdale, founder and director of Save Our Shelter Animals, who said her nonprofit group has operated a trap-neuter-return program for feral cats here since last year and recently received a $10,000 grant from Petco.
The ordinance approved Tuesday also replaces the city’s vicious animals ordinance with a similar but broader “dangerous dogs” ordinance regarding dogs that have shown inappropriate aggressive behavior.
It replaces city rules that allowed for dogs to be tethered outdoors for as long as an hour at a time and as much as three hours a day by allowing dog owners unlimited supervised tethering but reducing unsupervised tethering of dogs to 15 minutes
Ortiz voted in favor of the ordinance Tuesday after she voted against recommending its passage at a Sept. 21 meeting of the council’s public health and safety committee.
Ortiz said Tuesday she hadn’t been willing to support the ordinance at that time because some of her questions about it hadn’t been answered, but she felt comfortable supporting the ordinance after those questions were answered.
The measure approved Tuesday makes no changes to licensing fees for cats and dogs.
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.