Dog breeds that thrive in the cold will be exempted from a new City of Lawton ordinance that forbids owners from leaving their dogs outside during cold winter temperatures.
The amendment, set to go into effect in mid-December, is one of several changes planned to the city codes that govern the care of animals.
In this instance, the proposal specifies no dog may be left outside unattended for more than 30 minutes when temperatures are below 32 degrees. And, while city code already requires pet owners to provide an enclosed shelter to protect their dogs from the elements, the new provision specifies that unless the shelter has an independent and safe source of heat, a dog will be considered “outside,” meaning its owner is violating code when temperatures are less than 32 degrees.
Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren, who initiated the item, said his goal is to protect animals.
“We’ve had dogs freeze to death in people’s backyards,” he said, of problems that can arise during extremely cold temperatures.
The ordinance isn’t a new idea. Lawton’s new ordinance is modeled on one passed by Oklahoma City several years ago, and communities across the nation have enacted similar legislation.
Warren and Ward 3 Councilwoman Linda Chapman did have questions about applying the provision to Nordic breeds, heavy-coated dogs such as Siberian huskies and malamutes who enjoy colder weather.
“There are Nordic dogs who would rather be outside when it’s 32 (degrees), rather than in the house where it is warm,” Warren said.
Council members considered giving animal control officers discretion in such cases (city attorneys said that decision could be made by the city prosecutor if citations were given), but decided the code would exempt cold weather breeds suited to cold temperatures.
Ward 6 Councilman Robert Weger, who cast the only “no” vote, said some people are concerned that the proposal is government over-reach.
Provision for service animals
The temperature provision was one of two pet-related ordinances considered by the council Tuesday. A second one addressing service animals and large reptiles was tabled to allow a rewriting of the ordinance title to meet legal requirements.
Animal Welfare Superintendent Roy Rodrick said those provisions update city animal codes, updates he and City Manager John Ratliff said were prompted by the Oklahoma Municipal League.
Major provisions include a definition of service animals, based on the definition set by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Service animals are defined as a dog or miniature horse individually trained to work or perform tasks for individuals with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. The ADA also specifies other animals are not service animals, and neither are dogs that have not been trained to mitigate the effects of a disability, including those deemed support animals.
Service animals are allowed into places where the public is allowed to go, and the only questions that may be asked of an owner is whether the animal is needed due to a disability and what specific tasks it performs. Rodrick said animal control officers would like to be able to ask about training, but cannot.
“It’s hard to prove because of the limited questions that may be asked,” he said, of ensuring such animals are genuine service animals.
Answering questions from skeptical officials, Rodrick said the ADA defines miniature horses — 28 inches or less at the shoulder — as service animals.
Other amendments will make it illegal for someone living in Lawton to possess a reptile (such snakes and lizards) whose adult size exceeds 40 pounds. Rodrick said officers have dealt with a 6-foot alligator and snakes 9 to 12 feet long, all exceeding 40 pounds. One of the snakes was loose, Rodrick said, adding such weighty reptiles are capable of hurting people.
Other new provisions will allow the animal shelter superintendent to extend the redemption period for some animals, and will require written permission from the city manager or his/her designee before putting down an injured or sick animal impounded for less than 72 hours.