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Pet Owners Could Be in the Doghouse

August 19, 2004|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council, looking to give dogs a boost in their standard of living, voted Wednesday to draft an ordinance that would set strict standards for doghouses and outlaw the practice of permanently chaining the animals in yards.

A $250 fine could await owners who fail to provide a clean, dry home for dogs that are kept outdoors.

Cmdr. David Diliberto, director of field operations for the city's Department of Animal Services, said the new rules would be a boon to hundreds of dogs that pass their days tethered or that suffer in the summer heat and winter cold.

"We have people who think proper shelter is ... an old, rusted-out car body," he said.

Other supporters of the crackdown told horrific stories of dogs with chains embedded in their necks, living out miserable lives on a tiny patch of dirt.

"These are the dogs that bite," said Robert Goldman, president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn. "When someone ties a dog to a chain in their yard, you've got a dog that is a time bomb."

If the City Council approved the ordinance this fall, Los Angeles would become the first city in California to mandate such care for dogs, although other cities, including New Orleans and Washington, D.C., have similar rules.

"A lot of people are watching Los Angeles and hoping to see some leadership down there," said Hector Cazares, head of Sacramento's animal services department.

Cazares said he intended to take a similar proposal to the City Council there soon.

The ordinance would make it illegal for anyone to tie up a dog for an extended period of time. If a dog must be restrained -- to keep it away from the gardener, for example, or because a fence had broken -- owners would have to tether the animals with a non-choke collar on a leash at least three times the dog's body length.

The ordinance also would require that the dog have access to water and shelter at all times.

Doghouses, meanwhile, would have to be leakproof and equipped with clean, warm bedding. From November until May, doghouse windows and doors would have to have flaps to keep out cold air. And from June until October, dogs would have to be provided a refuge out of the sun.

Dogs kept inside the home or that have access via doggie doors would be exempted from the doghouse rules.

City officials stressed that the intent of the law was to give animal control officers a way to protect dogs from neglectful and abusive owners -- not to punish people who occasionally chain their dogs up in the backyard.

"This is not creating a whole new group of dog police," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski. "It's mostly to empower animal control when they get a complaint."

Goldman of the Veterinary Medical Assn. said, "This is not stuff that the average dog owner is going to have to worry about."

Miscikowski said no one expressed opposition to the plan before the council during public hearings.

The council passed the proposal unanimously Wednesday -- without any discussion. But several council members seemed unaware of the details of the proposed ordinance, possibly because the day's agenda stretched to more than 100 items and the meeting lasted more than five hours.

At least one council member said he planned to study the proposal more carefully after the city attorney drafted the specific language.

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