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August 16, 2007

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if the city wasnít always the bad guy? Yup, here he goes again, another soap box speech defending the city council. There are probably a lot of readers asking what if a city alderman didnít own the newspaper so he could write regular editorials trying to justify his positions.

If you remember right, I used to do this, even before I was one of the people being defended. But regardless of what people believe are the motivations behind it, here goes what I hope will be read as a poetic rebuttal to what I believe is unfair criticism of our fine city.

After listening to the radio and watching local television news coverage I fully expected to awake with a PETAĖled picket in my front yard calling for the ouster of the dog killers from city hall.

In case you have been on vacation for all of 2007, the City of Memphis has been implementing efforts to answer a public outcry for improved animal control.

After canine problems were on the council agenda for seven of the past nine months, the city acted, making an investment in a city dog pound, while also revamping the ordinances that regulate nuisance animals.

The policy states that an animal detained by city law enforcement will be held at the pound for seven business days, allowing its owner the opportunity to claim the animal, pay a fine and daily boarding fees, and return the animal home once it is licensed and vaccinated.

If after seven business days the dog is not claimed by an owner, the city is authorized to destroy the animal.

Recently the city came under fire because it was prepared to adhere to this policy. A cry for amnesty for the animal went up in the community. Back channel trade talks were begun as a handful of dog lovers went to work trying to save the poor dogís life.

But instead of addressing this issue in the months that led up to the situation, proponents of the policy chose instead to use this impending execution as a rallying point to try to produce enough pressure to force the city to ignore the recently approved law.

Instead of coming to a city council meeting, voicing concerns about the policy and attempting to offer productive options, the issue boiled over into a battle in the media.

Common sense says, if there is a person willing to adopt the animal, under the stipulation that it be licensed, meet all vaccination requirements and be spayed or neutered, the city would be in a better financial situation to consider it. That would allow the city to avoid the cost of euthanizing the animal.

The city did not consider this option, because during the initial permit process, officials were informed the city could not allow adoption under a dog pound permit. That would require a shelter permit, which has numerous other stipulations that would make constructing such a facility cost prohibitive.

Apparently the advice that was followed when the policy was crafted, may have been inaccurate.

Yet even strict adherence to policy doesnít prevent someone from coming in at the end of the confinement period when the dog has gone unclaimed by an owner, and stating the animal is yours. Unfortunately, if the animal is not licensed (which is required by law) the city has no way of determining ownership. So, if no one else claims the dog, anyone can step up and say that dog is mine. There is the little matter of paying the fine and boarding bill, but most shelters charge you to adopt an animal anyway.

That sounds like I am suborning perjury, but if you donít want the animal to be destroyed, and no one has claimed it, wouldnít you be the owner if you claimed it?

I donít believe anyone on the city council is in a hurry to destroy these dogs.

What the city council is in a hurry to do, is to take control of the streets back from animals that have made pedestrians feel unsafe. Officials arenít rushing out trying to kill off every dog that wanders away from home. We are attempting to make animal owners responsible when their dog habitually violates the rights of other property owners. There is a misconception that police officers are cruising the streets 24/7 eagerly awaiting a wayward canine to step one foot off its property. The vast majority of dogs picked up by the city are in direct response to a public complaint. There is no policy that prevents the officer from returning the animal to its owner, if the dog is licensed, and it is not a habitual offender. Believe it or not, the ordinance does allow some room for common sense. The law is not meant to punish law abiding animal owners whose dog occasionally slips its chain, or escapes the kennel.

Regardless of whether or not the city allows adoption of these animals after they exceed the required confinement period to allow the rightful owner the opportunity to claim it, eventually the first dog will be euthanized. Itís an unfortunate fact of life.

According to the American Humane Society roughly 64 percent of animals at the nationís shelters are ultimately euthanized. The numbers are staggering, with as many as 9.6 million animals destroyed each year.

So before you join any future boycott in front of city officialsí homes, stop and consider where the real blame lies. If people take care of their animals, have them spayed or neutered, and make a good faith effort to follow rules and regulations put in place to protect non-animal ownerís rights as well, we wonít have to be bombarded in the media by fights like this one.


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