For most pet owners, it comes naturally -- providing a good standard of living for a dog or cat. But horror stories abound of homes overrun with cats, of dogs scrunched into small enclosures in the 90-degree heat, or pets starved to skin and bones.
Broward commissioners Tuesday passed a wholesale rewrite of the county's animal care law aimed at better protecting domesticated animals from abuse.
For the first time, the law spells out standards for how Broward pet owners must care for their dogs and cats and includes "hoarding" of animals as illegal abuse.
The new law also allows feral cats to be neutered or spayed and released back into a colony, an effort at diminishing the number of "community cats" left at the county's shelters, where they are often euthanized.
It was a big day for everyone's four-legged friends. In a separate vote, at Commissioner Marty Kiar's urging, commissioners outlawed dog tethering, so owners can't chain dogs to a tree or a post and leave them.
"We're not trying to hurt responsible dog owners, the ones whose dogs sleep on their beds, like mine, or their couches, like mine, or wherever they want, like mine," said Commissioner Stacy Ritter. "We're trying to get to the really bad actors."
In the case of cat hoarders, the owners start with the right intent, said Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control Director Dianne Sauve, who said she thinks it's on the rise in Palm Beach County.
"You have some people with a propensity toward thinking they need to save everything," she said.
While Broward's hoarding law leaves room for interpretation, some locales set a definitive number. Palm Beach County, for example, allows a maximum 10 animals in one house, or more for owners on a large acreage.
"The most I've found is 282 cats in a 1,400-square-foot house," Sauve recalled, saying the cats were ill and the scent of ammonia from cat urine was overpowering.
Lisa Mendeim, Broward animal control's public education coordinator, said hoarding cases in Broward are rare, but the law was necessary.
"Sometimes people with the best of intentions get overwhelmed and soon find themselves in a difficult situation," she said. "Therefore, our main goal is to be able to have the authority to go in and remove animals from an unsafe environment so they can receive the proper medical they need and the opportunity to receive a new home."
Under Broward's new rules, hoarding is defined as "the intentional accumulation of a group of animals which has overwhelmed a person's ability to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and care to the animals, coupled with an inability or refusal to acknowledge that the condition of the animals is deteriorating."
The law also says:
--Pets kept outdoors must be provided shelter that offers them protection from "rain, wind, sun and all elements at all times." When the temperature falls below 45 degrees, animals that can't tolerate the cold must be brought indoors or provided heating. When the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, dogs and cats must be brought inside or provided shelter with air conditioning, a fan or some other cooling source to drop the temperature lower.
--Dogs must be given daily exercise.
--A dog under 20 pounds kept in a yard must have at least 100 square feet of space. A dog larger than that must have twice that space.
-- Unspayed female dogs and cats must be kept indoors when they're in heat.
-- Outdoor shelter must have clean, dry bedding, and any fecal matter must be kept in a sealed container.
--Residents of other counties who drop animals at the Broward shelters will be charged a fee.
--Ferrets are designated as domestic animals and are required to be vaccinated against rabies.
Violations bring a $250 civil penalty.
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