Faulkner County now has an animal control ordinance. It passed at Tuesday night’s Quorum Court meeting with one vote against it and one amendment.
The ordinance has a collar, name tax and rabies vaccination tax requirement for pets, and imposes civil fines for owners of nuisance and hazardous animals, which are defined as those that:
• "attack other domestic animals,"
• "trespass on school grounds,"
• "molest passersby or passing vehicles,"
• "damage private or public property,"
• "interfere with refuse collection or other service personnel,"
• "bark, whine or howl in an excessive, continuous or untimely fashion" (after two warnings without owner correction) and
• "are at large."
It was the definition of "at large" that prompted the amendment. Several members of the public told the Quorum Court that, as written, the ordinance’s penalties for owners of dogs found "running at large" would apply to hunters using dogs to flush out or run game, an otherwise lawful activity under State law and Arkansas Game and Fish regulations.
Justice Johnny Brady, agreeing with a concerned hunter in the audience, said that in his experience "a hunter, if he fox hunts or he beagle hunts or hunts rabbits, he’s not going to go home . . . until he has his dogs caught to take home with him . . . [and a] true hunter who loves to hunt will take care of what his dogs tear up" by privately and appropriately reimbursing someone for whatever harm or damage might be done by a hunting dog.
The solution arrived at by the Quorum Court on Tuesday was including language in the ordinance that has the effect of permitting any exercise of dog ownership rights expressly allowed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
County Judge Allen Dodson, speaking for the amendment, said the county was deferring to Game and Fish’s regulations on hunting dogs "because we can’t define it better than they do."
The ordinance lists the above-described offenses as "tier one" violations, and imposes a $50 fine for the first offense, a $200 fine for the second offense and a $500 fine for third and subsequent offenses.
Justice Randy Higgins, one of the county officials who has championed the ordinance, said that after a $50 or $200 fine, "we’re hoping they’ll get a clue" and build a pen or take other measures to avoid the $500 fine.
A "tier two" violation would involve an animal that, by way of its owner’s negligence, attacks or harms a person or "exhibits vicious or ferocious behavior . . . causing fear" in a person. However, the ordinance provides an affirmative defense for owners of animals that attack or harm a person when that person is proven to have been teasing or provoking the animal.
First violation of a "tier two" offense carries a fine of $500, second offense a $750 fine and third and subsequent offenses a $1,000 fine, with restitution required to cover damages in addition to the fine for each "tier two" violation. Also, this section of the ordinance gives a judicial court the authority to order the animal euthanized.
The ordinance also defines a "vicious dog" as one which causes death or serious injury to a person, is trained for or kept for fighting, or bites a human without provocation in two instances within 12 months or kills or seriously injures another domestic animal in two instances within 12 months. A "vicious dog" outside of a kennel or pen must be muzzled and on a leash in the hands of a competent person, according to the ordinance.
"It’s not an easy set of issues to address," Dodson said after the meeting, "and so I applaud Justice Randy Higgins and the [Faulkner County] Sheriff’s Office, County Attorney David Hogue and Faye Conville from our office for all their hard work, also [Conway Chief of Police] A.J. Gary and [Conway Animal Welfare Unit Director] Shona Osbourne. They’ve put in a lot of work and I’m pleased with where this is headed."
The vote against the ordinance was cast by Justice Randy Ingram, who said he was reluctant in his support after hearing from several constituents who told him they "moved to the country to avoid being told what to do" and "didn’t want another county ordinance" that he said, to them, represented unwanted government intrusion.
This prompted a response from Danielle Maddox, director of ArkanPaws, a local animal rescue organization represented by several people in the audience. Maddox said that people in the county needed a solution for the problem abandoned or owned but neglected animals beyond what private organizations like ArkanPaws could provide, and told a story about an Acklin Gap area woman who endured the howls of a sick and dying dog in her yard for two days because she couldn’t find its owner and didn’t know what to do about it.
"We get calls . . . and people cannot get through to the sheriff because [those] guys are overworked and they seek out rescue groups and we’re footing the bill," Maddox said. "We’re sending our people out . . . and absorbing the cost of taking in dogs, euthanizing dogs . . . how fair is that?"
The Faulkner Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also has what is effectively a partnership with FCSO in that deputies responding to animal issues typically call for SPCA "backup." Sheriff Andy Shock recently told the Log Cabin that Lydia Grier, leader of the county SPCA, has "saved" FCSO several times.
The ordinance passed on Tuesday is a step toward a more ambitious county animal control system that has been discussed by county administrations for more than a decade. A voluntary county tax has generated about $823,000 over several years, but county officials generally agree that this isn’t enough to completely address the county’s animal problems.
Over the years some sort of partnership with Conway’s Animal Welfare Unit has also been discussed, including using some or all of the county’s voluntary tax money to expand the Conway Animal Welfare Unit’s facility in hopes that it could meet both city and county needs. This was discussed again at Tuesday night’s meeting.
"Here’s the issue that we have," Dodson said at the meeting. "We’re [not] looking at the county going our own way and building a shelter. . . . Partnering with the city of Conway would be helpful, but here’s my concern: we have one shot to spend the money (raised by the voluntary tax) and if we spend it the wrong way and spend it unwisely, we’re done for 10 years."
Conway Mayor Tab Townsell wrote in a text message responding to the issue after the meeting that the city’s policy "has always been that we can talk [about] partnering with the county if they bring their own operating monies. The one-time monies to expand the [Animal Welfare] Unit would be nice but it wouldn’t be fair to [the county] and it wouldn’t substitute for year after year operating monies."
Higgins said at the meeting that raising county taxes to address animal problems wasn’t on the table for the Quorum Court, but he has recently said that the next step after adopting the animal control ordinance is to use the penalty and licensing revenue it raises to start building a base of year-to-year operating money that could be applied to run a county animal shelter or arrive at a mutually beneficial relationship with Conway’s animal welfare facility.