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City tightens animal laws

Missoula Animal Control requested and received a fee increases for licensing most animals, and it won significant changes in city law that better define what constitutes an adequate dog shelter and a nuisance barking dog.

Missoula's City-County Animal Control requested and received a fee increase for licensing most animals – including chickens – and it won changes in city law that better define what constitutes an adequate dog shelter, along with a nuisance barking dog.

Jeff Darrah, animal control supervisor, told the City Council on Monday night that his department has run in the red for each of the past three years. Its fees are lower than those in other cities, he said, and the cost of veterinary care and food has increased.

Animal Control also has incurred some hefty expenses caring for animals seized during cruelty cases. Rarely does the department receive reimbursement for such care, Darrah said.

“We end up housing some of those animals for a long period of time,” he said. “We housed three thoroughbred horses for two years at $45 a day. We have 12 pit bulls we’re holding while awaiting a court ruling, and taxpayers are paying for the care of those animals. Seldom do we get restitution for that care.”

Changes approved Monday by the council make it possible to recover the veterinary and boarding costs for animals seized in cruelty cases. It also increases the fees for boarding an impounded animal.

The cost of boarding a licensed dog will increase from $25 to $30 for the first offense, while boarding an unlicensed dog will rise from $55 to $60.

The cost of licensing a dog is also set to increase July 2 when the new fee structure takes effect. A one-year license for an altered dog will rise from $16 to $20, while licensing an unaltered dog will go from $31 to $35.

“We estimate there are 30,000 dogs in Missoula County and 14,500 are licensed,” Darrah said. “This is controversial with a lot of people. I’m surprised with how many people don’t think they should have to license their dogs in Missoula.”

While most fees were approved in the amount requested by Animal Control, several council members successfully negotiated a rate reduction for licensing chickens. Once set to increase from $10 to $20, the city settled on a chicken license fee of just $15.

Animal Control also requested and received changes to bring the city’s rabies code in line with Missoula County health codes. A clearer definition of what constitutes an adequate dog shelter was also approved.

“We hear a lot from the public, especially in winter, regarding dog shelter and dogs being kept out side,” Darrah said. “We didn’t have a definition of what a dog shelter was, so I took a look at what Minneapolis, Minnesota, had and we pretty much copied their definition of what a dog shelter is.”

Under the city’s new definition, a dog shelter must be moisture- and windproof and large enough to accommodate the dog. The shelter must be made of durable material with a moisture-proof floor, or a floor that’s raised 2 inches from the ground.

Between Nov. 1 and March 31, the structure must also have a windbreak at the entrance, along with sufficient and suitable bedding material. Not providing the shelter may constitute animal cruelty.

Laws also were clarified regarding a nuisance barking dog.

“Nuisance barking dog(s) means any dog(s) that barks, howls, yelps, whines, bays or makes other noises at repeated intervals of at least five minutes with less than one minute of interruption that annoys any person to an unreasonable degree,” the new law reads.

Darrah said Animal Control has operated in the red in each of the past five years, and increasing the fees to mirror those in other Montana communities could help recover some costs.

“We’re struggling every day,” he told the council. “We’re so tight we don’t have any breathing room. By addressing the fees, it makes it so we can actually buy a new truck.”

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