Friday, April 18, 2008

More on Roscoe Pet Ordinance

I thought it might be interesting to post the correspondence I had with one of the Roscoe Village Trustees regarding the proposed pet ordinance.

Here is the first response from Trustee Scott Richardson.
Our current ordinance limits the number of pets to 4 unless you have a kennel or multi pet license. The new ordinance was made to take care of people that don't take care of the animals they have. The ordinance address cats more then any other animal. We have made allowances for people that have ferral cats. People that live next to other people with numerous animals have a rights also and we have to take into account their feelings also and they don't want these animals in there yards going to the bathroom. We have had several meetings about this subject and have fashioned the ordinance to deal with the problem we are having.

Here is the response I sent back to Mr. Richardson.
Your response doesn't address any concerns and just reiterates to me the arbitrariness of this ordinance. The fact that some individuals don't take care of their animals is no basis for denying responsible individuals their liberty. If that is the concern, the ordinance should directly address that. A homeowner with one pet that is not taking care of responsibly raises all these same concerns. That is why the ordinance is arbitrary.

You wrote: "People that live next to other people with numerous animals have a rights also and we have to take into account their feelings" Well, no, we don't. That one feels a certain way about how many pets I might have is their problem; not mine or the villages. I might live next door to someone who has a motorcycle and I might not like that, but that doesn't give the village the authority to prevent my neighbor from having a motorcycle. Or maybe I don't like kids running around, and my neighbor has 5 kids. Should the village legislate no more than 4 kids? Or maybe I don't like Asian people, should we take account of my feelings then? According to the principle you have stated, the village would have that authority. Unless my pets are doing harm or posing a threat to my neighbor, his feelings don't count. Nor I should say, do mine. What should be the concern of the village government is the safety and protection of the residents; not their feelings.

Each resident certainly has rights--this is precisely my concern. The village is violating the rights of the residents by prohibiting, with no reasonable basis in the safety and protection of residents, an otherwise lawful action. That another doesn't like that lawful action is not a reasonable basis: such is the seed of tyranny.

Having rights means that others cannot interfere with one activities and property unless those activities or property are damaging another's activities or property. How does one owning five indoor, spayed cats effect anyone else? If I have dog that goes to the bathroom in some one else's yard, I should clean it up. Now if I don't, then that is a problem. I have interfered in their property and should be accountable for that. That is entirely reasonable, and I would have assumed that the village required that already.

My problem is not that the village wants to make sure that animals are being responsibly cared for and that residents aren't being unduly affected by the pets that others own. My problem is that village is going about this in an overly broad and arbitrary manner. Broad because the ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to have more than 4 pets, instead of focusing on the problem: those that have pets they don't take care of. And it is arbitrary because there is no connection between the number of pets and how responsible the owners are. Why 4? Why not 3 (as it was at first) Why not 5? There is no objective basis for making the choice.

It would be nice if the times, locations, and topics for the meetings were readily available, say on website or in a monthly or quarterly mailing to residents. The only reason I knew anything about this was the newspaper story.

I still urge the board to rewrite the ordinance in a more direct manner that deals directly with the problem of feral cats and irresponsible pet owners instead of enacting an ordinance that limits everyone.

Mr. Richardson sent me a copy of the proposed ordinance. And here is the response I sent after I read the ordinance.
My objection to 90.003(b) still stands. [The section regarding the limitation of the number of pets]

The purpose of the ordinance as stated is for the control and prevention of stray or feral animals and for the control and regulation of those breeding and selling/trading domestic animals. I don't necessarily agree that the village needs to do these things, but I am not here objecting to that. If there is a real health or safety issue, the village should be able to deal with that.

However, I strongly disagree with the implied assumption that a household with more than 4 pets is a household that is keeping animals to breed, sell, or trade. If that assumption is not being made than what is the basis for 90.003(b)?

Furthermore, the way the ordinance is written the total number includes not just cats and dogs but other pets, such as guinea pigs and birds. The Register Star reported that the ordinance cap would only apply to cats and dogs. If the cap includes all pets, than the number of 4 will be quite easy to go over. It is easy to imagine a home with two dogs and two cats, and then one of the children having a guinea pig (and these often are kept in pairs). Certainly this is not an example of a household intending to breed, sell, or trade.

So I still see no rational or objective basis for the number to be at 4.

Thanks to Mr. Richardson for, one, corresponding with me (no other trustee contacted me), and, two, for not objecting to my plan for posting this exchange.


Patrick Stephens said...

For the record, I agree with your position. But let's think about the actual purpose and effect of the ordinance.

They're not going to do random inspections to verify compliance. The ordinance will only ever be enforced upon specific complaint. You have two dogs and three cats and one poops on my lawn, now I can call the cops with a violation.

You have 23 cats and your house stinks of urine and the odor is making my kids sick, but the cats are all inside and I have no evidence that they're being mistreated, the ordinance gives me a cause for complaint.

Or more likely, the ordinance gives govt. agencies, social services, the fire dept., etc... a means by which they can clean out the animals.

Here in Kingston, we have an ordinance that limits the number of animals you can house within the city limits. Over a certain number or type and you're a farm and in violation of zoning ordinances.

Given that a large majority of your fellow citizens likely approve of zoning ordinances and health regulations, the political trick is to find a way to write an ordinance that punishes excessive or dangerous behavior while leaving innocent pet owners unmolested. Which is probably pretty hard, and probably why they got what they did. -- Not to say that they couldn't have done better, but just that this is a clean and simple, low-cost solution. Sometimes the Alexandrian approach is the right one...

Are any of the trustees sympathetic to your position?

Shawn Klein said...

Hey Pat...I've only spoken to one trustee (as was posted). He is willing to hear my concerns, but I don't think he's sympathetic to my objection.

You're right, of course, that this not very enforceable except where someone makes a complaint. For me, it is more about the principle of how badly (in terms of being overly broad and arbitrary) the ordinance is written. It's hardly unique in that matter, but here's one that I could possible have an effect on.