BOISE — It’s not every day a bullhook makes an appearance at a Boise City Council meeting.
Holding the long, hooked instrument over his head, City Council Member TJ Thomson described how the tool is used to hurt elephants and push them into performing circus tricks for entertainment.
“How do you get an elephant to stand on its head?” he said, waving the rod. “Stab them with this.”
This was part of his call to fellow Boise City Council members Tuesday afternoon to make a range of changes to the city code related to animal cruelty. His suggested changes cover everything from banning exotic animals, such as elephants, from being displayed in circuses within city limits, codifying requirements that domestic animals be properly taken care of and legally protecting those who break car windows to save dogs in hot cars.
Council members agreed to send the ordinance back to city attorneys for some tweaks. It will be returned for a full public hearing and more discussion.
Members had many questions for Thomson about the details of his proposal.
City Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg had serious objections to Thomson’s suggestions to codify animal cruelty because she felt they were too broad. Thomson wanted to have legal requirements that pet owners had to keep animals properly fed, watered, cleaned and in temperature-controlled environments. It would punish those who deliberately poison or try to abandon animals with the intent to kill them.
While Clegg said she understood his intent, she would prefer to see the city set penalties for violating certain rules, and setting legal requirements would make things difficult to enforce. She specifically pointed to requirements around temperature control.
“What you’re saying to someone is if you can’t afford AC in your house you can’t have an animal?” she said. “I’m not sure. I’m not in favor of mistreating animals in any way, but I just want to make sure we have a code that is reasonable and doesn’t overregulate.”
Dog licensing requirements are also a sticking point for Thomson. He would like to see a reduction in the cost for residents to license their dogs to match neighboring cities, as well as special promotional events to get people to register. Currently there are only 9,400 licensed dogs in Boise, which is only 14% of the total dogs estimated to be in the city. If the city adopted his changes, it would reduce revenue that goes toward animal enforcement roughly $75,000 annually.
Thomson argues if prices are reduced and the city builds a new marketing campaign to push people to register, it will bring in more revenue for animal enforcement. Council member Holli Woodings said she would prefer to see more focus on education, instead of just lowering prices.
“I don’t necessarily think we charge a lot, I just think we have low public awareness and knowledge that licensing your dog is something that needs to be done if you live in the city,” Woodings said.
Dogs in hot cars are a concern of Thomson’s. One of his changes would allow law enforcement to break into a vehicle to save an animal from a hot car in the summer and keep a citizen from being prosecuted for property damage if they break a car window to save an animal.
City staff recommends if council chooses to give immunity to private individuals who rescue animals, that legal protection is valid only in certain conditions. This would include if the resident has already called 911, the vehicle is not locked, they have searched for the owner and if they do break the window they wait with the animal before first responders arrive.
Another one of Thomson’s suggestions included removing the current requirement that any pet owner with more than four dogs or cats total must get a set amount of signatures from neighbors within an immediate radius every year. Thomson said he had to do this for a few years when he had five pets and it was difficult to connect with neighbors who might not be home or who had ‘No Soliciting’ signs posted. Instead, he suggested the city mail a postcard to everyone within the radius and provide resources for submitting concerns.
Clegg said she understood the intent, and again felt the new policy was too broad. She suggested a compromise where residents could choose to collect signatures or be subject to the government deciding whether or not having all of the pets was appropriate. But she said it should only need to happen once instead of on an annual basis.
“I think, frankly, it’s a good idea for neighbors to understand what animals are next to them and why they own that many,” Clegg said.
Thomson would like to match the city’s code to federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, so people with service animals can legally bring them anywhere.
He would also like to stop the sale of puppies and kittens by private citizens in the public rights-of-way and prevent pet stores from selling animals. This would not include breeders, or stores like PetSmart that have animals available for adoption through the Idaho Humane Society.