PLATTSBURGH — The City of Plattsburgh approved changes to its pet code in a four to two vote last night.
That local law, expected to tackle various feral cat and other citywide pet issues, had received push back from some area organizations and city residents.
City Councilor Peter Ensel (R-Ward 4) said he and fellow councilor Rachelle Armstrong (D-Ward 1) worked hard on the law updates, adding that they spoke with individuals from both sides of the argument.
“I strongly and wholeheartedly believe these changes serve for the betterment of the animals and their overall health and well-being,” Ensel said. “But, most importantly, it benefits public health.
“It protects and respects landowner’s rights, while making people more responsible and accountable.”
Councilors Ensel, Armstrong, Elizabeth Gibbs (D-Ward 3) and Patrick McFarlin (I-Ward 5) voted in favor of the law, while councilors Mike Kelly (D-Ward 2) and Jeff Moore (D-Ward 6) voted against.
The law’s piece on ownership has gotten a lot of buzz and Thursday night’s meeting was no different.
That section was an attempt to answer the question: in the City of Plattsburgh, who is a pet’s owner?
“A person who keeps, maintains or harbors a dog or cat or who knowingly allows a dog or cat to remain on the person’s property, or who regularly feeds a dog or cat on the person’s property, is presumed to be the owner of the dog or cat,” the law states.
“A person who has charge, care, custody or control of a dog or cat is presumed to possess or control the dog or cat.”
At last week’s public hearing, Animal Rescue Welfare Services Board President Lillian Cassidy said she had concerns with that section of the law.
Cassidy, who helps to operate a trap, neuter and release program within the city, thought the law could put an end to her group’s work.
“Providing this service does not mean that Animal Rescue Welfare Services owns the cats,” she had told city councilors. “If the law suggests that or determines that we do, I fear that we would be unable to go on.”
But, Ensel said Thursday, that isn’t the case.
“I would like to allay any of your misguided fears,” he said. “The plain language of section 128-4 A, states that an individual will be presumed owner of a cat if they regularly feed the cat on that individual’s property.
“I’d like to confirm that the legislative intent behind this section is that those who provide food to feral cat colonies would not be the presumed owner — so long as those colonies are not located on the person’s property.”
Councilor Moore wasn’t sold, though.
Moore read a letter written by a city resident which, he said, was reflective of his personal views.
Written in that statement were concerns of ownership that echoed those formerly presented by Cassidy.
“It implies that whoever feeds the cats would be owners,” Moore said. “That’s what the words say.
“I really agree that something needs to be done. I’m not sure that this present law is going to achieve those ends.”
Under the newly-adopted law, pet owners are responsible for vaccinating their pets, providing it with sanitary living conditions, not abandoning it and, if a cat, having it microchipped before four months of age.
The law also adds language for a complaint-driven enforcement policy to make pet owners liable for violations, like property damage.
Written complaints can be filed with either a police officer, code enforcement officer or parking enforcement officer, the law says, and could lead to the issuance of an appearance ticket.
“We’re not asking the City Police Department and the Building Inspector’s Office to go on a vigilante effort,” Ensel had told The Press-Republican. “What the law basically does is give them something that they can rely on.
“Now they would have something on the books that says pet owners can be charged and will face fines.”
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