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Dogs and cats, and living together

It's not mass hysteria, but city will consider rules adjustments

Aug. 4, 2009

Oak Creek — In a rarely enforced city ordinance, city leaders have begun discussing whether to change the rules on the number of dogs and cats a resident can possess.

Under current Oak Creek law, a resident can own no more than two dogs, but there are no limits on how many cats a person can have. City officials have opened the discussion on possible changes by request of a city resident, who favors a local option allowing more rescue dogs in homes.

Officials have floated several options, such as raising the limit on dogs, putting new restrictions on cats or rewording the ordinance to say that a resident could own four animals. Or they may also leave it the way it is.

As it stands now, the city's laws are not restrictive or inconsistent compared to neighboring communities, officials said.

Controlling problems

Aldermen discussed the topic generally at Monday's Common Council meeting.

Mayor Dick Bolender said the current rules are problematic in two respects. They could be viewed as unfair to dog owners, due to the lack of limits on cats. And at least one residence that has a high number of cats has caused problems.

But perhaps a bigger issue regarding dogs and cats is about the "control" of the animals, aldermen said, rather than the number one owns.

Most animal-related calls in Oak Creek are for barking dogs and dogs running at large, Police Chief Tom Bauer said.

"That takes a lot of our time and that's what causes neighbor issues, more so than ownership of dogs," he said. "That can cause dramatic neighbor problems that lead to much more difficult situations than barking dogs themselves."

Police enforce the current dog restriction only when called to a residence on a complaint, Bauer said, noting that officers typically issue warnings and give residents 30 to 60 days to comply.

Alderman Steve Scaffidi said he was troubled by the committee's finding that of an estimated 5,000 dogs in Oak Creek, only 99 were licensed.

"That's a bigger issue than the number of dogs people have in our city," Scaffidi said. "If you want to worry about things that's where I would start looking."

Milwaukee's model

Resident Marilyn Porter, speaking at Monday's council meeting, favored Milwaukee's laws, which she said allow people to own three dogs and buy fancier licenses for more.

That way, residents are able to take in rescue dogs, she said.

"Why can't people who want to help be given that option?" she asked the council.

A city committee that has begun the talks did not make a recommendation to the Common Council, which discussed the issue without drawing a consensus. City officials will continue to mull the ordinance before making any decisions.

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