Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 21, 2013

Council needs to rethink animal control ordinance

by Christina Peck

Last year, the City of Mountain View awarded the city's contract for animal services to the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA). Animal services include the pickup of dead animals, animal control (animals running at large, vicious dogs, dog bites, barking dogs complaints), dog licensing, and the taking in and sheltering of stray animals. Prior to this, Mountain View contracted with Palo Alto Animal Services; SVACA became our shelter on November 2, 2012.

At the June 4 City Council meeting, SVACA proposed a completely new animal ordinance to replace the current code. When it came time for public comment, only 3 people spoke — mostly on proposed changes to bee-keeping. Quite shocking, given that the new ordinance, at 85 pages, impacts about one in three households, and imposes regulations, fees, permits and licensing requirements on individuals, businesses and animal rescuers and organizations.

For example, cat owners would be required to purchase a license for their cats, and have them vaccinated against rabies. SVACA claims that licensing would increase the number of lost cats reclaimed by their owners, but the cat would have to be wearing a collar with the license tag. Anybody who owns a cat knows that keeping a collar on a cat is unrealistic.

The reason there was no public outcry at this initial reading of the ordinance is clearly because no one knew about it. The new ordinance was placed on the council's consent agenda, to be voted on at the June 11 meeting without public debate.

Public notice of the proposed ordinance and the ensuing vote was made by posting a notice in the San Jose Post Record, a legal journal read only by attorneys. If you or I wanted to read it, we would have to buy a subscription costing $145 per year. This explains why no one knew of the new animal ordinance! Why didn't our council recognize the impact of the new ordinance, and question why there was so little public comment?

Fortunately, residents did learn — at the very last minute — of the new ordinance and upcoming vote from the Voice. At the June 11 council meeting, residents showed up in force to speak against the new ordinance. To their credit, the council members, surprised at the outcry, handed city staff a laundry list of important issues to research, and postponed action on the ordinance until fall.

Many sections of the ordinance affect rescuers and rescue organizations.

The majority of animal rescue work in Mountain View is done by private individuals and rescue groups, unbeknownst to SVACA. Every day, rescuers get calls/emails from the public asking for help: they've found a litter of kittens, need help getting their animals spayed/neutered, they're moving and can no longer keep their pet, or they've found an abandoned animal. Rescuers respond, and pay for any veterinary care out of their own pockets. To impose regulations and fees on those doing the work is just plain wrong. And it doesn't work: people go underground and become suspicious of animal control, and any trust between the shelter and rescue groups is destroyed.

Speaking of trust, we're off to a rocky start with SVACA. Several locations on their website (and brochures obtained in their lobby) clearly state that Mountain View residents must license their cats and vaccinate them against rabies, even though this is not required by the current code. How many licenses have already been purchased by MV residents? Any fees that have been paid should be refunded.

Let's face it, if the Voice hadn't publicized the new ordinance, the council would have simply voted to pass it in its entirety, without further public comment or consideration, in a show of solidarity with SVACA. SVACA wrote the ordinance and clearly benefits from its rapid enactment: any fees generated go to SVACA, not Mountain View.

The citizens of Mountain View clearly deserve better. I proposed the council appoint a working group of residents and established rescue groups with direct knowledge of animal issues to review the ordinance and its impact on all of us. The group would report its findings to the council, and work with city staff to craft a new, equitable animal ordinance. City staff has neither the time nor expertise to provide such input, and may simply defer to SVACA.

Christina Peck, a Mountain View resident and founder of the Stanford Cat Network and Fat Cat Rescue, has been active in animal welfare for over 25 years.

Comments

Posted by Ana, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm

I second the proposal for a working group of residents and established rescue groups to review the ordinance. This ordinance will affect a substantial number of residents directly and may even result in residents inevitably committing misdemeanor - a very serious consequence. Residents need to be able to give input so that the laws can be customized according to our needs and not what is convenient to an organization.


Posted by Denise, a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Without a doubt, I too, support the proposal for a working group of residents and established rescue groups to review this ordinance and any other ordinances proposed. The MV City Council needs to be transparent at all times. "Sneaky tactics" need to stop and any public notices need to be published in our own MV Voice in a timely manner, so the residents can stay abreast and active in the City of MV's activities. As MV residents we should never have to scramble and rush to uncover the truth of what is happening in our own town by our own representatives. The MV City Council needs to work with the public it promised to represent.


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