The Phelps County Commission decided that the proposed animal at large ordinance should be addressed again to see if the county stands alone in the matter of animals trespassing.

The commission decided to look into drafting a more concise ordinance on Tuesday, Oct. 16. The commission reasoned it’s now necessary for counties to address the problem after the state statute was rescinded in 2013, and no new state law has been enacted.

The state law was repealed when a Conference Committee to resolve disagreements on Senate Bill No. 9, resulted in disapproval from former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

Nixon said, “While the impetus behind this provision may have been to deal with trespassing livestock, the proposed offense was broadly written to cover all manner of animal, including dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens.

“Conceivably, an otherwise law-abiding Missourian who failed to control the family cat on two separate occasions could be subject to incarceration. This example alone demonstrates the type of unintended consequence that can occur.”

The county commission agreed that the unintended consequences of the now repealed state statute were parallel to the ordinance the commission had proposed.

And the broad language, which contained verbiage that covered all manner of animals, left some residents of the county concerned, while other residents expressed that owners need to have control over their animals.

Phelps County resident, Chester Kojro, described the statute at the initial public hearing on July 19 as “written succinctly; it is a blanket ban on any animal roaming off a property. It’s a leash law, plain and simple.”

On the other hand, Phelps County resident, Dwayne Goodridge, told the commission at the initial hearing that marauding dogs killed $10,000 worth of goats, a genetic line that he would never be able to re-create. He said he loved dogs, but “dogs need to be kept up.”

Phelps County Prosecutor Brendon Fox said the ordinance was fashioned after the repealed state statue, but said the ordinance might be prone to misuse between quarreling neighbors.

The ordinance dictated it would be unlawful for any person owning an animal of any kind to allow the animal to wander off the owner’s premises.  Law enforcement personnel working with any police K-9 were excluded.

The crime described by the ordinance consisted of merely owning an animal, and the animal wandering off of the owner’s property. No threatening behavior or damage was required; just being off the owner’s property could have been a crime with a maximum punishment of up to one year in county jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

The extremity of the maximum punishment was an area that unsettled residents, stated presiding commissioner Randy Verkamp.

“That is what upset everybody. If my dog is going over to my neighbor that is going to cost me $1,000 and a year in jail,” said Verkamp.

Even though the $1,000 fine and one year in jail was the maximum punishment, it remained worrisome for community members.

“I know that is the extreme, and I get that part of it, but they still have that power to do that possibly,” said the un-imposed Phelps County Collector candidate Faith Barnes.

Without some sort of ordinance, it is somewhat left up to the Wild West mentality, stated District 2 commissioner Gary Hicks.

The commission unanimously agreed a new ordinance would have precise language, instead of across the board verbiage.

The new ordinance if and when it’s discussed will be the ‘Vicious, Threatening or Destructive Animal Ordinance,’ said Verkamp.

Currently, the commission is going to contact other commissioners through the Missouri Association of Counties to garner input on how to proceed with a county ordinance that has been discussed in length over the past months.

“If other counties are finding it to be a problem then we take that to the state legislature, and say ‘come on you guys fix it.’ That is my feeling, to see if we are alone on this issue,” said Stratman.

Brief History of the Phelps County Animal Ordinance

Sept. 11, 2018: The county commission decided the ordinance should be addressed statewide instead of locally.  

District 1 commissioner Larry Stratman had conversed with Representative Jason Chipman, R-Steelville. “We had a conversation with Jason about how it should be a statewide fix. We asked them if they could help with the language.”

Language, District 2 commissioner Gary Hicks, described as “extremely ambiguous,” spanning a mere three lines.

The commission noted that Crawford County, Dent County and Maries County are having the same problem, and the National Sheriff’s Association and County Commissioners Association of Missouri should push Missouri legislature to pass a bill after they repealed the original statewide law.

“In order to have a statute that would really work, it probably would have to be more thought out and less open to abuse from false claims, overreach from law enforcement because that is what a lot of people worried about – overreach of law enforcement into their private lives," said Stratman.

Before the county decided to revisit the subject of an animal ordinance, they wanted to know why the statewide ordinance was repealed in the first place after being the law for over 20 years.

If the state absolutely refused to address an animal ordinance, then the county would make a move to look at a decree, stated Stratman.

Stratman said,“We’ve spoken, we’ve repealed, we’ve spoken, and I think we would be forced to revisit it because we want our citizens to have as safe an environment as possible, and not to give the sheriff the tool to protect Timmy in his front yard or Bobby at the bus stop – we can’t have that.

“The County Commissioners Association of Missouri needs to come back to legislators and challenge them to fix this, so we don’t have a 100 different ordinances floating through the state on what a vicious animal is.

“As I was saying last night, what if you are on the Phelps County and Crawford County line; whose animal ordinance are we adhering to. That is why it needs to be a statewide fix.”

Aug. 28, 2018: The criminal versus civil approach to the “Destructive Vicious and Threatening Animal Ordinance,” was discussed. Categorization of the offenses, punishments; input from stakeholders such as the Missouri Sheriff’s Association.

Phelps County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Rick Hope, Lt. Matt Shults and Phelps County Coroner Andy Davis discussed the recent alleged killing of 18 lambs, across several episodes, by three or four dogs belonging to a neighbor.

Aug. 21, 2018: Phelps-Maries County Health Department Director Ashley Wann referred to a childcare provider who had free range poultry and other livestock mixing with her child charges; this practice jeopardizes her state subsidy and Wann said the health department could revoke her license.

Presiding commissioner Randy Verkamp said he felt it needed to be renamed the “Destructive Vicious and Threatening Animal Ordinance.”

July 19, 2018: The public hearing for the Animal At Large ordinance.

June 21, 2018: Proposal of ordinance.

District 1 commissioner, Larry Stratman, said there was a state law for the last 25 years, and “for some reason, the state repealed that ordinance, and we can’t figure out why.”

“So the sheriff came to us saying ‘I am getting a lot of calls of dogs threatening children, dogs threatening private property, and we don’t have a tool,’” said Stratman.

He continued that currently, the law reads that an animal has to be on the property the animal is disturbing for 24 hours before the sheriff’s department can step in, so if an animal is threatening a child the department can’t do anything about it.

“So he (Phelps County Sheriff, Richard Lisenbe) said, ‘we need a tool to protect children, and protect private property,’ so we asked Brendon to write an ordinance, it’s a fairly vague ordinance, and it reads like a leash law, so I can understand people’s concerns, but it does give a lot of discretion for the sheriff,” said Stratman.