Borough needs to address animal control

Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2010

Why hasn't the Kenai Peninsula Borough enacted an animal control ordinance?

Currently, animal control is limited to cities. Issues in unincorporated parts of the borough fall under the purview of the Alaska State Troopers. Understandably, the issue does not rank high on their list of priorities. The life of a human being, troopers say, carries more weight than the life of a dog.

Earlier this week, borough assembly President Pete Sprague said the issue of animal control is one that "has never had any traction." The body is not likely to take up the issue without public outcry, which he said he has yet to see.

Yet here at the Clarion, we routinely receive phone calls complaining of loose dogs, animals harassing wildlife, and as was the case this past week, animals being neglected by their owners. Troopers last weekend seized four dogs that had apparently been abandoned, locked in a pen on a North Kenai property. The dogs were starving, fighting with each other any time neighbors came by with food.

Troopers say animal calls are common, but seizures of animals are rare. They would welcome assistance in making sure animals are having basic needs -- food, water and shelter -- met.

Former assembly President Grace Merkes, after numerous complaints from residents, sponsored an ordinance two years ago that targeted vicious dogs and would have allowed a private contractor to seize and possibly dispose of dogs that had bitten people. The assembly deemed the measure to be too narrow in focus and too difficult to enforce.

"It's the objection from people who don't want to regulate dogs in the rural areas," Merkes told the Clarion this week. "They say once you start with regulations, you can't stop."

What would it take to generate the public outcry necessary for the assembly to enact a reasonable, enforceable animal control policy?

Tim Colbath, founder of Alaska's Extended Life Animal Shelter in Nikiski, would like to see an organization like his be able to step in and take care of an animal when its owner isn't able or willing to do so. After nearly 10 years of lobbying the assembly for some type of measure, he predicts a dire situation before the borough takes action.

"I hate to say it, but it's probably going to take a 5- or 10-year-old kid getting shot by someone going after a stray before the borough is forced to do something," he said.

It shouldn't have to come to that. The fact that this issue continues to surface over the course of a decade, and the fact that authorities routinely field calls regarding animals demonstrates a need for action. We are at a point where the burden of ignoring the issue has become much heavier than the burden of regulating it. The assembly needs to address this before it becomes a greater threat to public health and safety.

In short: It's time for borough lawmakers to address animal control issues.

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