An ordinance up for approval tonight doesn't just mean Lawrence dogs must be fenced and on a leash; the rules also would apply to cats.
City residents soon may be asked to keep their cats on a tighter leash -- literally.
The Lawrence City Commission will consider an ordinance tonight that would require both dog and cat owners either to keep their pets on a leash or confined within a fenced yard when outdoors.
The changes are part of the same proposal that would impose even stricter regulations on owners of vicious dogs. While that provision has generated the most impassioned public debate on the subject, the new requirements for cats and non-vicious dogs have received relatively little public attention.
David Corliss, the city's director of legal services who drafted the proposed ordinance, said city commissioners felt it was important to tighten up the city's leash law at the same time they were trying to resolve the controversy over vicious dogs.
The city's current leash law addresses both dogs and cats, Corliss said, but it requires only that the animals be kept on leashes or "under the charge, care or control" of the owner.
"We interpret that to mean that if the animal responds when the owner says, 'Here Fido' or 'Here Fluffy' -- if it responds to a verbal command to come back -- that's not an animal at large because it's under the owner's control," Corliss said.
Under the proposed change, having verbal control over a pet would not be enough to comply with the leash law. If the changes are approved, pet owners would have to keep their pets physically confined, either on a leash or within a fence.
"We've gotten a number of letters in support of a 'leash law,' as opposed to a 'command or control' law," Corliss said. "So far, the big emphasis has been on dogs, particularly the dangerous dogs, and that's where our focus has been. But commissioners also told us to take a look at the at-large provision, and this is the direction they wanted to proceed."
According to municipal court statistics, the city issued 377 citations in 1998 for animals running at large, compared with 289 such tickets issued in 1997. The report does not break down those citations by the type of animal involved, but city officials said they thought the vast majority were related to dogs.
Police Chief Ron Olin said that if the ordinance passes, he does not foresee his officers patrolling neighborhoods "herding cats," at least not any more than they do now.
"We will do the best we can to enforce the ordinance, but a lot of our enforcement has more to do with answering complaints from the community than going out and doing a self-initiated activity," Olin said.
People convicted of letting their pets run at large would face stiffer penalties under the proposed new ordinance.
Fines would jump to $30 from $10 for the first violation within a 12-month period. After that, fines would go to $40 for the second offense, $60 for the third offense, and $100 for each offense thereafter within a 12-month period.
In addition, the proposal would create a new offense of "habitual violator" for any person who receives four or more citations within a 24-month period, with fines ranging from $100 to $500 for each habitual violator conviction.
"That was part of the commissioners' discussion about the ordinance," Corliss said. "They thought it was appropriate to have higher fines."
-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.