The public hearing for the Animal At Large ordinance in Phelps County was a session of debate. The statute dictates that it will be unlawful for any person owning an animal of any kind to enable the animal to “run at large.”
The ordinance defines “run at large,” as an animal that has wandered off the owner’s premises, and is not under the control of the “keeper, owner or a responsible member of the household.” The ordinance doesn’t apply to law enforcement personnel working with any police K-9.
The range of punishment is up to one year in county jail or a fine up to $1,000, the same as a Class A misdemeanor—the default for the ordinance.
Community members were divided on the statute at the public hearing held Thursday, July 19. Some people thought the ordinance's enforcement would be positive for the county since an owner allowing their animal to wander off of their property can be seen as a form of disrespect for their neighbor, whereas other community members regard the statue as a bit severe.
“I have two distinct objections,“ said resident, Chester Kojro, who attended the hearing. “First, none of the caveats are in the ordinance, and written succinctly; it is a blanket ban on any animal roaming off property -- It is a leash law, plain and simple.”
He further explained that the “crime” consists of merely owning an animal, and the animal wandering off of the owner’s property. He said, no threatening behavior or damage is required; just being off the owner’s property is now a punishable crime.
Captain Rick Hope, a spokesman for the Phelps County Sheriff’s Department, said the implementation of the ordinance will be beneficial for the county.
“We have people being chased, harassed, and bitten and whatever else out there,” he said. “The current law that we have right now is not working. I think what we have here is something to work on. It has checks and balances.”
Hope doesn’t perceive the violation of the ordinance as an everyday occurrence; moreover, the sheriff’s department would have the availability of the maximum punishment if a case violating the law continues to be a problem.
Hope said,“At the end of the day if I live out in the country and your dog is coming over to my house and pooping in my yard -- that is a natural thing for a dog to do.
“If it’s doing it in my yard and it bothers me, or if my neighbor has a problem with my dog, I am going to put that dog up whether I live in the country, or whether I live in the city.
"First of all I want to be a good neighbor, and secondly, it’s the right thing to do.”
Presiding Commissioner, Randy Verkamp, encourages the community to reach out to any of the commissioners, the sheriff, or the county prosecutor, to offer their thoughts on the statute.
The Phelps County Commission expects to have a decision made on the ordinance in 30 days.