LIVINGSTON -- The Polk County Animal Control Committee, established by the county commissioners court and the sheriff last year, has submitted a draft of a new ordinance intended to address the stray dog and cat problem in the county.
The ordinance, which will be formally presented to the commissioners court on Tuesday, Dec. 12, has been designed to formally address several issues identified by the committee, county commissioners, the sheriff’s office and from the general public’s input.
These new rules will not supersede any existing city ordinances or any existing HOA/POA rules within Polk County, but focus on the unincorporated areas, according to Committee Member Gary Ashmore. Some specific things in the proposed ordinance include:
1. Formally establishes an official County Rabies Control Authority and Animal Control Program led by Sheriff Kenneth Hammack and his staff.
2. Reinforces the existing state law requiring all dogs and cats to have a rabies vaccination.
3. Reduces the number of dogs that are left to freely roam the neighborhood streets.
4. Excludes public highways and parking lots as places to sell animals from parked vehicles.
5. Reduces the risk of animals causing injury to people and pets by other unrestrained pets.
6. Reinforces State law regarding cruelty to animals and establishes penalties for any occurrences.
7. Excludes all rural property owners of five or more acres from any restraint or leash requirements.
8. Organizes a county-wide registration of all animal shelters and breeders for improved health coordination and communications regarding animal population and pet adoption opportunities.
9. Establishes some formal processes for the county animal shelter regarding stray animal impoundment.
10. Reinforces the existing state law regarding the restraint of dogs and specifies what is allowed and not allowed.
11. Establishes fines and penalties for violations and serves as a deterrent to irresponsible dog and cat ownership and pet dumping.
Ashmore said the Animal Control Committee which is made up of volunteers from the public, has worked the past few months with Sheriff Hammack and Lt. Mark Jones from the sheriff’s office. Dr. Ray Luna, the county health officer, also has been supportive of the ordinance as it is written. The county commissioners from each of the precincts have also provided valuable input and detailed feedback into the new ordinance as well as County Judge Sydney Murphy.
Input also was received from several members of the SPCA of Polk County’s board of directors. The SPCA currently operates the only active animal shelter in the county.
The Polk County Criminal District Attorney Lee Hon’s office is currently reviewing the ordinance prior to its submission for possible commissioners court action.
Although the new ordinance will limit certain activities related to irresponsible pet ownership, Ashmore said it is also important for people to know that it does not prevent anyone from owning, sheltering, breeding or selling animals in the county.
“It does not limit the number of animals a person can own. It does not prevent any specific breed of dog or cat from being owned as a pet. It does not require people to keep animals on a leash at all times. And most importantly, it does not direct law enforcement to go out and inspect people’s property for violations, rather allow them to respond to complaints and prevent further violations and injury to the public and to promote responsible and healthy animal ownership in Polk County,” he said.
Ashmore added this ordinance is only a start in addressing the existing county stray dog and cat problem and will need to be modified as time goes by and the county learns what works and what will not. The next steps by the animal control committee will be in addressing the existing, non-operating county shelter facility and determining what it needs to adequately support the animal control needs of the county.