Tupelo looks to strengthen rules on pets

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – After years of debate and numerous draft proposals, Tupelo next month finally could pass tough, new rules regulating dangerous pets.
City Council members met Tuesday to discuss the recommended version, which significantly strengthens the existing ordinance. Members are scheduled to vote on it May 1.
If it passes, the amendment will take effect 30 days later and will apply to all Tupelo residents.
According to the proposal, owners of all pets with a history of aggression must obtain an $80 permit from the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society and renew it annually. Failure to do so could result in up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in jail.
Animals are deemed dangerous when, unprovoked, they threaten or attack a person or another pet; if they’re owned or trained primarily for fighting; or if they’re a pure or mixed-breed pit bull.
The definition hasn’t changed from the existing ordinance. But, unlike at least one previous proposal, this one omits the automatic classification of Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers as dangerous.
Some animal advocates, including veterinarian Stephen King, had argued against singling out specific breeds, saying it unfairly penalizes responsible pet owners. Others, like Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis, had lobbied for it because of the breeds’ size and strength and the damage they could cause.
Both Davis and King renewed their positions Tuesday, as did Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell, who argued extensively against leaving pit bulls in the ordinance. He wanted no mention of breeds whatsoever.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to solve this,” said council President Fred Pitts after more than an hour of debate. “We’re just going to have to take it to a vote next Tuesday night.”
Prior to the meeting, Tupelo-Lee Humane Society Director Debbie Hood said she opposes most breed-specific legislation but approves the inclusion of pit bulls in the ordinance.
“I have seen the damage done to other dogs and cats, I have seen the damage done to persons by a pit bull more so than any other breed,” Hood said. “A first offense on a Chihuahua … is not going to result in the serious damage compared to a pit bull biting somebody on the first offense.”
Also new in the proposed ordinance are a slew of conditions residents must meet to qualify for a dangerous-pet permit. They must, for example, be at least 21 years old, prove the pet has been sterilized, has a microchip and current rabies vaccination, and they must obtain a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance in case the animal hurts someone.
Under the current ordinance, pet owners must provide only their address and a description of the animal to get a one-time, $50 permit. And they’re required to keep it either indoors or in a fully enclosed, 4-foot-high pen. It must be muzzled and leashed when out for a walk.
Failure to obtain a permit currently can result in a maximum $150 fine per animal, per day. And failure to comply with the leash law and confinement regulations can cause the city to impound the animal and, if not reclaimed within five days, euthanize it.
The new proposal goes further. It mandates a 6-foot-high pen with a combination or key lock when outside. When inside, all windows and doors must be closed unless reinforced by something strong enough to prevent an escape – screens alone aren’t enough. All dangerous pets also must wear at all times a bright, orange, city-issued collar. And owners can’t walk them within 500 feet of a school.
Failure to comply with any of the regulations can lead to the maximum $1,000 fine and possible jail time, as well as impoundment of the animal and possibly its euthanasia.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com