Your dog's bark could eventually take a bite out of your wallet.
The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to instruct the city attorney to draft an ordinance creating "administrative citations" that would fine pet owners whose dogs violate leash laws, noise ordinances and other regulations.
You now might get a notice to comply or a ticket from an animal control officer for violating a leash law. But you can fight the ticket in court, which means you have to pay a $25 fine only if you're convicted.
"And the court is probably not going to calendar it," said one L.A. city official. "So it becomes a kind of toothless thing. Substituting the administrative citation keeps it out of court, says you're fined — and you have to put the dog on the leash."
Owners whose barking dogs have racked up complaints from neighbors will still face the possibility of being called to a Department of Animal Services hearing. But under administrative citation law, they also could be fined immediately.
"It's a great enforcement tool for our animal control officers on the streets," said Kathy Davis, the interim general manager of the city's Department of Animal Services.
The citation process could also mean more money for the city's cash-starved coffers. Violators pay fines directly to the city.
Although city officials have yet to decide on a fee structure, Davis wrote to the mayor last year that other jurisdictions using this system assess fines of $100 to $300 for first and recurring offenses.
Davis wrote that "if all 19,351 Notices to Comply issued in 2008-2009 for barking, cruelty, distance, leash law and permits were translated to first-time Administrative Citations … revenue could be nearly $2 million annually."
The administrative citation process also would be available to other city departments, such as building and safety or housing, that enforce various codes.
Even a fraction of those fees might help the Department of Animal Services, which is facing cutbacks that Davis has said would be crippling. The city has proposed $1.8 million in cuts to the department's budget, which Davis says would mean closing two city shelters.
But Davis was cautious this week about considering the citation process a windfall for the city.
"The object is to make people understand how serious the issue is they're getting cited for," she said Tuesday, using the leash law as an example. Unleashed dogs, she said, "could go into the street and get killed, they could cause an accident. They could bite someone … there are lots of good reasons to keep that dog on a leash."