After delaying passage of an ordinance on regulating “vicious or potentially dangerous animals” last month in order to add provisions on cruelty to animals and a limitation on the number of animals allowed per acre, Lenoir City Council unanimously passed the second and final reading by a 5-0 vote.
In response to questions from the public about the ordinance, Lenoir City Police Chief and Public Safety Director Don White said animal control has been a long-standing safety concern in the city.
“If there is an irresponsible pet owner, we’ve been trying to deal with that for years,” White said. “This just gives us a better tool.”
Under the ordinance, a Lenoir City judge may rule that an animal can be confined and killed if it is deemed vicious by attacking a human or a domestic animal or posing an “immediate threat” to the public and the owner has not complied with local animal control regulations related to keeping vicious animals.
The ordinance also stipulates that owners may not keep more than three vicious animals on one acre, and officers enforcing the regulation must act within cruelty to animal provisions in state law.
Also as part of the regulation, pet owners must keep vicious animals restrained on a leash or chain and under the physical control of a “responsible adult” and display signage on their property about the animal.
Resident Leslie Caldwell said in addition to vicious animals, dogs running loose and owners who had multiple dogs chained up outside were also problems in the city.
“If all those 12 dogs are not being vicious, you’re still going to have that problem with 12 dogs chained up outside,” Caldwell said.
Lenoir City Attorney Jim Scott said the regulation was not drafted specifically with dogs in mind, but written to apply to any animal that might be deemed dangerous.
“This ordinance, at least the attempt by me in drafting it, is to protect other animals as well as the general public from all vicious animals, and that’s why the physical nature of the animal is taken into consideration by the contents of this document,” Scott said. “... What we’re trying to do believe it or not is trying to make sure we protect animals as well as we protect the general public.”
Resident Carla Welch told council that responsible pet owners often get a bad reputation because of irresponsible residents.
“Let’s tag those owners,” Welch said. “Let’s find those owners after two or three times, let’s put those owners in jail. Let’s get some revenue for the city.”
She asked whether the per acre limitation was restricted to “vicious dogs” or to animals in general.
“It’s not three dogs or vicious dogs on one acre, it’s three vicious animals,” Scott said. “Three dogs on one acre that are safe and constrained and in compliance with the law, that’s perfectly acceptable.”
Becki Hopson of Lenoir City asked officials how police will be trained in enforcing the regulation.
“Because we ourselves are actually picking up the perception that it is dog related, will others, including police officers who try to enforce it, also pick up that same perception?” Hopson asked. “So what type of training will be done to ensure that that does not happen?”
White said police will be trained on specific provisions in the ordinance, noting the city has addressed animal control problems for years.
“We’re not just starting something brand new,” he said.
Lenoir City resident Connie Sledzinski said she has seen 11 pit bulls on one city lot, noting that numerous animals in the same place could also pose safety risks.
“I think we need something,” Sledzinski said. “This doesn’t keep anybody from owning any animal. It restricts them maybe to the number, but I’ve seen what a number of dogs can do to each other. I’m sure a number of rattlesnakes, goats, whatever ... could do something as well.”
After hearing from numerous members of the public, Councilman Mike Henline made a motion to vote on and approve the ordinance as written, which was seconded by Councilman Bobby Johnson Sr.
“I feel like everybody had some problems with parts of it, but generally was in agreement with it,” Henline said.
Mayor Tony Aikens agreed. “I didn’t hear anybody say they were against the whole thing,” Aikens said. “There were some parts of it (people) were against. I don’t think we’re going to make 100 percent of the people happy. Somebody’s going to always have a problem with it. ... There’s some good and maybe some questionable, but I don’t know that we can get any better than what we’ve got.”
In other business, council:
- Approved an ordinance to designate a handicapped parking space in front of a residence at 410 West 5th Ave.
- Approved the purchasing committee’s recommendation to hire the low bidder, Townsend-based Richardson Commercial & Residential Roofing, to repair the roof at the War Memorial Building. The low bid was $12,950.
- Approved a road closure in the Town Creek area for the first Angie Selvidge Memorial 5K, which is set to take place in May.