It’s been over 10 years since Wichita Falls has seen any changes to the local ordinance that deals with animals. While many feel current proposed revisions are a long time coming, others are worried the city is overstepping their boundaries.
The following is a list of pros and cons seen from my perspective and my perspective only. I would like to point out these changes are over 1 year in the making. The Health Department and Animal Services Center (ASC) have worked tirelessly to rework the current ordinance based on research and feedback they gathered from other communities. They have gone out of their way to meet with stakeholders including breeders, groomers, rescues/shelters, feral cat caretakers, vicious dog owners, and veterinarians. They even created a survey for community feedback that was purposefully distributed on the local news.
This ordinance is thoughtful and well written but some parts may be difficult to understand for people outside of animal welfare. For that reason, I am sharing my perspective and I hope after reading the ordinance yourself and asking questions, you will support me in asking our Mayor and City Council to vote in favor of the changes to Chapter-14- Animals.
For readability, I couldn’t discuss everything. I try to focus on the changes from the existing ordinance to the proposed revision linked to below. It’s possible some people are upset about parts of this ordinance that have been law for over 10 years.
- The ordinance prohibits the owning of wild and exotic animals by individuals. This was already in the ordinance but it is now better defined.
- The new ordinance requires pet owners to have a means of disposal with them at all times while walking their pets. Please research zoonotic diseases spread by fecal matter that can infect you, your children and your pets in addition to parasites. Using our walking trail without side stepping piles of poo is also nice.
- The new ordinance has a number of educational components to it that have great potential. One, a responsible pet ownership class will be created for several reasons but aimed primarily at repeat offenders. People do the best they know. A class explaining how things could be handled better will result in more knowledgeable pet owners throughout our community.
- The “duty to locate owners” of found animals is now broken down into actions for finders of lost animals to take. It’s not uncommon for people to find a pet and decide the pet must have been mistreated and should not go back to the owner. Therefore, they do not post the pet as found. It doesn’t take long for a perfectly groomed Yorkie to look like a homeless stray when fending for itself. It takes very little time for a dog to get ridiculously matted, extremely dirty, tear their pads, injure themselves on fences, or be attacked by other dogs or wildlife while running loose. Running loose also burns excessive calories so dogs may appear very thin after being on their own only a few days. Pets deserve a chance to be reunited with their families and pet owners deserve a chance to get their pets back. This is simply the right thing to do. Finally, people commonly refuse to take a found pet to ASC for fear it will be euthanized but no one is looking in the finder’s backyard for their pet. They are looking at ASC. At the very least, ASC should be made aware.
- ASC will now require owners who wish to euthanize their pets to relinquish them instead. Sometimes, perfectly healthy, loving pets are taken to be euthanized for various reasons. ASC will now have the ability to examine and decide for themselves if euthanasia is the most humane option because of illness, age, injury or if the pet needs a second chance and could be adopted.
- The new ordinance better defines humane treatment and care. I interpret parts of the ordinance like this as a design to give ASC teeth to act in times of cruelty and neglect. If we haven’t defined what is humane, we cannot help an animal when it is being treated inhumanely. A few are concerned that grooming was added to this definition. If you have a pet that should be groomed regularly and you fail to do so, the pet will become severely matted which is very painful and leads to skin infections and other medical conditions. ASC deserves the ability to consider this inhumane and require the pet be groomed. Moreover, the pet deserves it.
- The revision also requires groomers to ensure pets they see are vaccinated for rabies. Pets don’t automatically love being bathed and cut and many hate their nails trimmed. Proof of rabies simply protects the groomers and our community from the spread of a fatal disease. It is the state law that ALL pets be vaccinated for rabies anyway.
- Pet Stores may not sell companion animals that are not from registered shelters or rescues. This movement is happening all over the US. Entire states have set precedent for such and the reason it matters is because we have too many animals and not enough homes. ASC takes in an average of 285 unwanted pets each month. The least we can do is offer a platform for adoptable pets to find a loving family. If you want to buy a pet, there is no shortage online. In Wichita Falls, let’s be pet-friendly and think adoption first!
- The new ordinance calls for ID on live stock. I feel this is self-explanatory and in line with ASC’s hope to return pets or livestock to their owners as quickly as possible. Exceptions have been made for animals that are not tagged or branded like horses. This helps the owners as much as it helps the livestock. The more quickly animals can be returned home, the less likely they are to be injured and the less costly it is for ASC to house. Provisions for Livestock are not kept on hand nor do large animals fit inside our ASC trucks so when ASC takes in cattle, goats, pigs, etc., it’s no small task or expense.
- Feedback from the feral cat caretakers resulted in some welcome changes. The most burdensome requirement for registering a colony in the existing ordinance was getting permission from neighbors on all sides. This sometimes resulted in 6 or more homes. Now, only the homes that actually share property will have to give permission. People caring for 4 or less cats are not considered a colony. This is progress.
- Rescue groups will now be required to register and maintain a list of fosters or affiliates. Why create more work for rescues and shelters? Sadly, people are not always honest and claim they are fostering for a reputable group when they are not. An added benefit of this means fosters with no more than 4 personal pets will not be required to obtain a fancier permit because they will fall under the shelter or rescue. For clarification, a Pet Fancier permit is required for people that own 5 or more personal pets.
- Litter and Seller’s permits are required to be prominently displayed in any advertisement. As stated, our ASC takes in 285 unwanted pets each month. Pet overpopulation costs us as taxpayers over 1 million each year in the form of our ASC. The permit fees are very modest compared to the profit pet owners make selling litters. It is only fair that the population of people contributing to our pet overpopulation pay for the right to do so. Both permits and the fees associated with them can be waived if the pet owners agree to spay the mother. Both permits require attendance in the Responsible Pet Owners Class as well.
- Pet owners are required to keep a record for 1 year of where the litters were sold. This serves as a form of disease control or other health concern. For example, if one pup from a litter presents with distemper, the adoptive parents of the litter mates need to know immediately. This provides the puppies the best chance of survival.
- A female may not be bred more than 1 time in 12 months and 3 times in her life. There have never been any regulations on breeding at a local level and many breed their females every heat cycle. This change is a step in the right direction to protect the health of the females.
- Pet owners that sell their puppies or kittens must provide a health certificate within 2 weeks from a veterinarian. This should cut back on the number of sick puppies and kittens sold to new unsuspecting parents. It should also create another expense for pet owners that are breeding.
- The minimum age to transfer ownership whether giving away or selling is 8 weeks. All litters should be kept with their mothers until 8 weeks for socialization. This should increase the health of pups and kittens while decreasing behavior issues that later lead to relinquishment.
- No sale or transfer of any pet over 6 months of age that is not sterilized, microchipped, and vaccinated for rabies. This not only increases the health of pets but increases their value. It also decreases the chance that pets will be obtained for fighting as altered pets are typically not considered good candidates and eliminates more unwanted litters born in our community.
- All dogs at large will be spayed and neutered. There are exemptions for police dogs, show dogs, etc. and this is not mandatory spaying and neutering of all dogs. This is aimed at loose dogs only. First, spayed and neutered pets are less likely to roam or run away which means they are less likely to be hit by cars, get into a fight or other bad things. It also means, because they are fixed, they aren’t causing accidental litters in our community that we, as taxpayers, pay for. Unaltered pets at large are a problem. Males can smell a female in season up to two miles away. Fights ensue. Dogs can be severely injured and even killed when more than one male wants to mate a single female. In season Females are not safe in their yards or their homes. Males will jump fences and enter through doggy doors. Unaltered pets are more likely to behave aggressively and this is not just in dogs. Unaltered male cats are notorious for fighting and spreading FIV. If you do not want to fix your pet, keep them securely in your yard or home because an unaltered pet roaming our street will always find trouble. Finally, did you know that 40% of ALL litters are accidental? How do you think these happen?
- Dogs in the open beds of trucks or trailers must now be confined in a manner that the dog cannot exit the bed of the truck. This also addresses proper ventilation if using a kennel or dog box in the heat. I think this is a step forward as dogs are commonly thrown from pickups and seriously injured or killed. Even those that are tethered can fall and be strangled by their collars. I know I am not the only extremely distracted driver when I see a dog loose in the bed of a pickup. It’s unsafe for the dogs and those around it. I should mention this portion of the ordinance is causing a lot of contention. There is a good chance it will be dramatically amended or removed all together.
- Last but not least- pets at large will be microchipped. Original drafts pushed for all pets to be microchipped but it will only be those that are loose. Microchipping is important for many reasons and I hope more pet parents do it regardless of an ordinance. Collars and tags are already the law but they aren’t always worn and they can fall off, especially if a pet is on the run tearing through fences. Microchips are a permanent form of ID. The city spends a great deal of money and resources impounding and caring for at-large pets. Some are reclaimed, some are not. If ASC can return a pet to its owner without having to impound it, everyone wins. Pet owners avoid an impound fee, the pet is safely returned and ASC didn’t have to exert resources to care for another stray pet. This is also positive from a financial standpoint as impound fees exceed the cost of a pet owner to chip. We have a serious problem with Lost/Found pets as proven on the many FB pages devoted to this purpose. Permanent ID would solve a great deal of it. It would also save lives and tax dollars. Yes, there is an initial fee to microchip. PETS and ASC will be offering $10-$15 chips which again is substantially lower than the impound fee. I should add, we will not be making money on microchipping. We must purchase the chips, pay staff to implant them and handle the paperwork involved but we also must maintain multiple scanners which cost $300-$500. If your pet is injured while loose, don’t you want to be contacted immediately so you can arrange vet care? Cities all over the US began implementing mandatory microchips years ago. We need to catch up and return pets to their families. Loose dogs cause unwanted litters, injuries, impoundment and more- all of which costs lives and tax dollars.
- The cost of chips will be prohibitive to some, even at a discounted rate of $10-$15.
- ASC will now require appointments to relinquish your pets and there will be a fee. I can’t imagine this will have a positive result but I believe the other parts of this ordinance should eventually decrease the need for relinquishment and the overall number of unwanted pets in our community. Sadly, people WILL go throw their pets in the country but they already do.
- I wish there was no maximum limit of pets allowed to be owned because so many pets need homes but am happy that ASC will have the discretion to adjust the number of approved pets on Pet Fancier’s permits depending on the size of accommodations and the person’s ability to provide appropriate care. Housing 5 teacup Chihuahuas in an apartment is quite different than 5 Great Danes.
- Fosters of an animal for more than one year will be considered an owner. Our rescues are at capacity with not nearly enough fosters. The success of local adoptions is dismal especially with certain breeds. Some pets take years to find the right fit and being considered owned will open up that foster to more permitting and decrease the ability of that foster to take on new pets. These problems are a result of the disease which is pet overpopulation so as that continues to decrease so should this issue.
- No regard was given to the health of the breeding female. I had hoped for a health certificate to be required for the females not just the litters. AKC guidelines suggest females be checked by a veterinarian before being bred. It’s still great progress and the limitations on total litters should greatly protect the females but may be hard to prove or track.
- The “dogs in pick up beds” portion beds doesn’t address the temperature of the metal of the bed of the truck of trailer in the summer time. Dog’s pads can become burned and they can’t escape if tied to the bed. Nor does it specifically address the length of a tether suitable for confining the dog but preventing it from falling off the bed. We have all seen dogs who are tethered fall from the bed and hang themselves.
As you can see, I am very heavily biased in favor of the ordinance and I hope my point of view answers some questions about why these changes matter to me at least. I know its human nature to zoom in on the one part of this 51 page document that affects you and make up your mind in the heat of passion. I beg you not to throw the baby out with the bath water. This is a chance for some very important progress to happen in Animal Welfare at a local level. I know no one will agree with all of this ordinance but I also don’t believe anyone could argue against every part of it either. There are some extremely great things going on in these pages.
We have been doing things the way we do them forever. It’s not working. If we want things to change, we have to change them.
The Health Department and Animal Services have been wonderful at addressing concerns so reach out if you are worried. At the end of all of this, ask yourself what your vision is for animal welfare in our community and how this helps us get there. If your vision is “they are just animals and this is just more big brother government sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong,” I beg you to research our ASC budget, our local numbers, our lost/found pages. This problem isn’t going away and like it or not, you’re paying for it.
Follow this link to view the Wichita Falls Ordinance Changes Chapter 14 – Animals:
A Footnote for Good Measure
My support of this ordinance has been attributed to the fact that at-large animals will be required to be spayed and neutered if passed. It is argued that this portion of the ordinance is self-serving for my organization, P.E.T.S. Clinic. It certainly is but not for financial gain as stated.
P.E.T.S. stands for Preventing Euthanasia Through Sterilization. We have never made any bones about spaying and neutering being the ONLY solution to pet overpopulation and our record proves it. You cannot build enough kennels or shelters to house homeless pets. Until our existence, the number of unwanted pets taken in each year grew.
So of course, we want more animals spayed/neutered and fewer unwanted pets born. However, this ordinance will not financially line our pocket book or the local veterinarians’ pocket books. First, the previous ordinance already required at-large animals to be spayed and neutered but gave them a one-time chance. This meant first time impounds could be paid without sterilization or the pet owner could agree to sterilize and the impound fee would be waived. Doing so has always been at the pet owner’s choice of veterinarian. I can’t speak for other clinic’s fees but I feel very confident saying no clinic makes money on spaying and neutering.
At P.E.T.S., a spay and neuter cost us $53.08 to perform. That is the VERY low end. That is before an extra packet of suture is required, a surgery runs long, an animal requires more meds, fluids, or additional care. Yet our fees are $30 for a male cat, $40 for a female cat and $55 for a dog regardless of size or additional need. We LOSE money on every spay and neuter but it is our mission and one that has resulted in dramatically decreasing the number of unwanted pets taken in by our city and paid for with our tax dollars.
Because of our efforts, the intake of unwanted pets has decreased from over 10,000 to 3,428 in 11 years. Roughly 40% of our spays and neuters each year are done for free or at a reduced fee lower than our regular low-price. Yes, we sometimes get grant money to offset some of this cost but grants only reimburse us for what our original price would be meaning we are still losing money. Grant money is also very hard work and never lasts as long as we need it to.
Again, please ask questions! Be informed. Go directly to the source for information and help us progress our community forward for Animal Welfare.
How You Can Help?
Email your Council member. Be sure to include the Mayor and Councilor at Large, Bobby Whiteley. This means you will send 3 separate emails but they can be the same. Just let your voice be heard. Is progress for Animal Welfare in Wichita Falls worth 5 minutes of your time? Recruit your friends and family to help. People are often overwhelmed by politics and the legislative process. Help them use their voice to make a difference.
I am writing in support of the ordinance changes for Chapter 14- Animals. This issue is important to me because __________________. I hope I can count on you to vote in favor of these revisions.
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