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County sheriff proposes animal ordinance

Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes presented a county animal ordinance to county commissioners Tuesday.

Its purpose is "the control of nuisance, potentially dangerous and dangerous animals," whether mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish or bird.

Board Chair Cal Johannsen noted that an animal ordinance has been on the county's agenda for nearly 16 years.

"Well, we finally got something down on paper, and instead of going with a dog ordinance, we're going with an animal ordinance," Aukes said. "We did include all animals because we do have issues with other animals as well — cattle, horses, cats, whatever it may be."

The goal is to get habitually neglectful owners to keep control of their animals, Aukes said. "That's all that we're after because we get so many animal complaints."

Some farmers have animals out on the highway "and they take no initiative to go get them or fix their fence," he continued. "The animal owner who jumps to it, fixes their problem and tries to correct things, this does not apply. There's no violation. It's the person that absolutely, time and time and time again, doesn't do anything. Then we need to get their attention because it's a safety issue."

"Penalty-wise, we didn't make this 'a hanging offense,'" Aukes said.

First offense is a $50 civil penalty. A second offense within 10 years of the prior violation results in a $100 fine. A third offense, within 10 years of the prior two instances, is subject to a $200 penalty.

Anyone who fails to pay the civil penalty within 14 days of notice is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both.

Aukes said the ordinance will allow his office to deal with dogs that get into garbage, chase deer, chronically bark for extended periods, defecate on a neighbor's lawn or are aggressive toward people or livestock, among other nuisances.

"It's not a leash law. I absolutely, in no way, in rural Minnesota want anything to do with a leash law. That's not the purpose. But that dog that is just a nuisance and the owner won't do anything about it — well, this gives us a little bit of meat to deal with that," he said.

Under the ordinance, a nuisance animal may be impounded if the owner was issued a prior violation within the past three years.

Johannsen inquired about impounding larger animals, like horses.

County Commissioner Vern Massie said the Headwaters Animal Shelter has a holding pen for bigger creatures.

Aukes said he also knows of private individuals who could hold horses.

"As long as we're doing it in a humane manner, that's really the rule," County Attorney Jonathan Frieden told the county board.

The owner would be responsible for any fees associated with impoundment or veterinarian bills.

Other than a chronic barking provision, most nuisance behaviors listed in the county ordinance are already regulated by Minnesota statute, Frieden said, and result in misdemeanors.

"This actually gives us a tool to not go that harsh toward the person and only fine them $50," he said, "and, hopefully, solve the issue."

"That's all we're looking for is to correct the problem," Aukes said.

The proposed ordinance defines a "potentially dangerous animal" as one that bites, attacks or chases when unprovoked or has a known history to attack, causing injury.

By statute, if a dog bites, for example, Aukes said the sheriff's office then serves the owner a paper stating the dog is on probation. If it attacks again, it is deemed a "dangerous" animal.

The county ordinance states the animal must be destroyed in a proper and humane manner unless the owner maintains a proper enclosure, posts warning signs, muzzles or restrains the dog, registers the dog with the animal control officer (a $100 initial fee and $100 annual fee), and shows proof of annual public liability insurance in the minimum amount of $300,000. The owner has 14 days to comply.

"Some of this is just mirroring state statute," Aukes said.

Minnesota statute currently does not have an administrative appeals process for an owner whose animal has been designated as "potentially dangerous," but the county ordinance does, Frieden said.

The appeals panel will consist of two Hubbard County commissioners, or their designees, and the Hubbard County Sheriff, or his designee. This three-member panel will hear appeals to animal impoundment and "potentially dangerous" or "dangerous" animal designations. An appeal request must be made in writing.

The biggest issue with an animal ordinance is enforcing it, said Johannsen.

Aukes anticipates the ordinance will be effective. "I truly think this ordinance is very fair," he said.

Commissioners unanimously voted to send the ordinance to the county planning commission for review.

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