Lawrence city commissioners moved to sharpen the teeth of animal control laws Tuesday by banishing most exotic pets from the city.
Dogged by tales of a pet mountain lion running loose in a city neighborhood, commissioners approved a draft ordinance that limits animals allowed in the city to the domestic, dogs-and-cats variety.
"This is a public safety issue," Commissioner Shirley Martin-Smith said.
"We realized (this summer) that we did not have a basic means for addressing concern for the mountain lion," she said. "There is no question that the ordinance was outdated."
City laws barred only pigs from being kept in the city. The proposed ordinance bans the keeping of all animals except those generally considered domestic pets.
Dogs and cats still would have a home in the city, as well as fish, rodents, domesticated European ferrets, birds and turtles, except those protected by state or federal laws, such as bald eagles.
The laws also would allow non-venomous snakes less than 8 feet in length, non-venomous lizards, amphibians and invertebrates. Rabbits also are allowed, but no more than three to a household.
THE ORDINANCE leaves exotic pets such as chimps, grownup pythons and mountain lions out in the cold and outside the city limits.
Mayor Bob Schulte suggested revamping animal control laws in July after hearing complaints of a mountain lion living near a day-care center in the Sunset Hill neighborhood.
"I have seen this animal. It's in the front yard on a rope on occasion, said Deborah Burns, chair of the Sunset Hill Neighborhood Assn.'s safety committee.
Burns said nearby residents wanted to rid the neighborhood of the lion.
"There are a lot of children who walk past that house on the way to school," she said. "We do consider this to be a real detriment to the quality of life in our neighborhood."
The mountain lion escaped from its yard at 3032 Steven Dr. on April 7. It approached a baby sitter returning from nearby Sunset Hill School with a preschooler before being captured without incident by animal control officers.
Randall Jackson, the owner of the mountain lion, said this morning that he didn't feel his declawed cougar, named "Sasha," posed any danger to neighbors.
"SHE HASN'T harmed anybody, and she's used to being around people," he said. "I would say she isn't any more harmful than the average dog."
A 1-year-old mountain lion, Sasha stands about 2 feet tall and weighs about 60 pounds. Jackson said that she would stop growing in another year, probably by then weighing 120 pounds.
Jackson said Sasha usually is kept on a cable in his back yard. She romps and wrestles with Jackson's Rottweiler dog named Apollo.
"I really don't think it's fair" to ban an animal that hasn't hurt someone, said Jackson, who has a state permit to keep the cougar. "I might have to give her to a zoo, I suppose."
Under the approved ordinance, a municipal court judge can order the confiscation of a banned animal if the animal poses an immediate danger to the public or itself.
Police officers would not go on safari to ferret out exotic pets in the city, said Dave Corliss, assistant to the city manager.
"As in the past with animal control problems, we will rely on citizens' providing us with complaints," he said.
ANIMAL control officers would work with owners of banned animals to set a timetable for moving the pet out of the city. If the owner failed to follow the timetable, stiff penalties could follow.
Anyone convicted of violating the ordinance would be fined no less than $10 and no more than $500. A second violation would bring the same fine and/or up to 10 days in jail.
The ordinance also contains a grandfather clause that allows those who currently own goats, horses, cows and other barnyard-type animals to continue having animals on their land until the property on which the animals live changes owners.
Commissioners still must approve the proposed ordinance on first and second readings. The first reading is scheduled for Nov. 17. After approval on second reading, the ordinance won't go into effect until it is published in the Journal-World.