COLUMBUS — City officials are hoping a bigger fine will lead to fewer pets running loose in the community.
Columbus City Council members voted Monday night to increase the fee for owners whose pets are picked up multiple times by animal control for violating a local law that prohibits dogs and cats from running at large.
Currently, the pick-up fee is $15 plus $10 per day to house the animal for up to 72 hours. After that time frame, the animal is released to Paws and Claws Adoption Center, which can put it up for adoption. The animal shelter can also charge the owner a daily fee for care if the pet is claimed.
Lead Animal Control Officer Shawn Flowers said his department “regularly” deals with animals caught running at large on multiple occasions.
“There’s some people that treat the shelter as their regular day care for their animals,” he told the council.
Flowers recommended increasing the pick-up fee to $25 for a second offense and $40 for third and subsequent offenses to help address the issue.
Mayor Jim Bulkley isn’t sure the change goes far enough. He suggested an even higher fine for repeat offenders and asked about confiscating animals to stop pet owners from abusing the rules.
“Do they need these animals back if they’re not taking care of them?” Bulkley asked. “Why are we giving them back to them?”
Flowers said the city code allows animal control to take pets away after four violations in a year. However, when those cases ended up in court in the past, he added, the owners were typically given another chance by the judge.
“We have never actually made them surrender (their animals),” Flowers said.
There was also some concern among council members that higher fines would lead to more pets that go unclaimed after they’re picked up by animal control.
Councilwoman Beth Augustine-Schulte suggested they move forward with the proposed increases to see if they have an effect. If it doesn’t work, she said, the council can always take another look at the fees.
Flowers said the city collected about $3,000 in fees for animals running at large last year.