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The residents of Golden Valley have a lot to say about their pets – especially when it comes to how the animals are controlled. After a public input process with several hundred testimonials, Golden Valley city officials are moving forward with new restrictions on handling pets in public, including leashing and picking up after them.

At its Feb. 16 meeting, the Golden Valley City Council unanimously approved changes to the city’s animal control ordinance, which hasn’t been updated in several decades. The changes will require a second reading to be formally adopted into city code. Mayor Shep Harris said that would occur at a council meeting in early March.

Currently, the ordinance allows pets, namely dogs, to be off-leash in public spaces like roads, trails, parks and sidewalks provided they can be controlled by their accompanying owner’s voice.

“You have to be able to call your dog or animal back to you,” explained Police Chief Jason Sturgis. Sturgis said that in the last three years, the department had received 35 animal bite calls and all have come from dogs.

If passed, the new ordinance will require a dog or animal on public land to be leashed at all times, with an exemption for service animals. If a passerby is within 20 feet of the dog or animal, the leash must be 6 feet. If no one is close, the leash can extend up to 20 feet.

The ordinance would also require pet owners to pick up the feces of their pet in public places as well as others’ property, and dispose of it in a public or personally-owned receptacle.

The proposal was guided by a survey that garnered 652 responses from residents. In it, 70% of respondents supported a public leash requirement, and 61% agreed that a 6-foot leash was an acceptable maximum. Of the 39% that answered no, a majority supported a 10-to-15-foot leash.

Cats vs. dogs

The council members were in approval of the new ordinance but had concerns about the clarity of “dogs and other animals” as it was written in the ordinance.

Councilmember Larry Fonnest asked if the ordinance would apply to owners of outdoor cats. Sturgis said the city does have a feral cat population, and because it is difficult to differentiate a feral cat from a housebroken cat, those cases would need to stem from complaints in which the residents know who owns the cat. Sturgis said the department had dealt with similar issues that are usually resolved by having a conversation with the cat owner.

Hinging on Sturgis’ comments, City Manager Tim Cruikshank said steep penalties for ordinance violators weren’t anticipated and that the focus was on education.

“We don’t want to get in a situation where our PD is being inundated with phone calls about feral cats and dogs that aren’t leashed,” Cruikshank said.

Fonnest also asked about the lack of a pet licensing system in the city. Cruikshank said many cities in the last decade had “gotten away” from licensing, calling the administrative effort of such programs “overly burdensome and, frankly, ineffective.”

City Attorney Marie Cisneros also reminded the council that the city also had policies in place for animals found with no apparent owner. “A cat or dog running at-large will be taken by police,” she said.

A ‘public safety issue’

Members of the public whothat chose to spoke peak about the ordinance were in support of it. One caller said she had once been in a situation where an unleashed dog had her dog’s head in its mouth.

“Voice control is subjective, which is why every city around Golden Valley doesn’t allow for a voice control exception,” she said. “We’re all safer when these dogs are on leashes.”

Another caller was concerned what the ordinance would mean for his barn cat, and suggested the ordinance separate requirements for cats and dogs.

“Unleashed dogs are a public safety issue, whereas I do not believe cats are,” he said.Cisneros said the ordinance had been written broadly on purpose.

“Imaginations are challenged when we imagine all the types of pets people might have,” she said.

Though the council approved the first reading of the ordinance as is, there was some indication that there would be support for clearer language on specific pets.

Councilmember Kimberly Sanberg said she “hesitated” to suggest the ordinance apply to dogs alone, but would consider an ordinance with exceptions written for cats.

Harris agreed that additional conversation was warranted before the ordinance is adopted.

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