How Many Are Too Many?

posted April 15th, 2007 by
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Story by D. Faith Orlowski

Have you ever wondered just how many dogs or cats your neighbor really has?  If you are an animal lover and have noticed nothing amiss, then you probably have not.  However, not everyone is so accepting and often someone is reported for having too many pets.  But just how many are too many?

 

If you live within the Tulsa city limits, you may keep and possess a combined total of five dogs and cats over the age of four months.  However, no more than three of such animals can be dogs over the age of four months.  So five cats are allowed and so is no more than three dogs – just not all together at the same residence.  There is a fine of up to $500 and/or 30 days in jail if you are found guilty of a violating this ordinance, which is codified at Section 101.4, Chapter 1, Title 2 of the City of Tulsa Revised Ordinances.  

But how can a city or county impose such conditions and, thereby, infringe on people’s rights to have pets?  A city (or governmental body) has a recognized police power to regulate matters of health and safety, to define what constitutes a nuisance and to provide for the abatement of that nuisance.  Municipal ordinances are presumed to be constitutional unless the party challenging these laws can prove otherwise.  Generally, in order to prove that an ordinance is unreasonable, the complaining party must show that the ordinance has no substantial relationship to the public health, safety, or general welfare.  There are no reported cases in Oklahoma where anyone has challenged a municipal ordinance limiting the number of pets.  There is authority elsewhere that certain ordinances that do not allow a “grandfathering” period could constitute an illegal taking of property and I certainly believe those ordinances should be challenged.

In Tulsa, there are certain exceptions which allow someone to keep more dogs and cats in their household.  The first is the “Grandfather Clause” – if immediately preceding January 1, 1998, the household possessed more than the ordinance limit and such dogs and/or cats were all legally licensed and the existing animals still living in the household are the same animals that were there immediately prior to January 1, 1998, then you (more specifically, your pets) are “grandfathered” in and are allowed to remain.  As you can see, this will phase out over time, since few pets live longer than 15-20 years, even under the best of circumstances.

The second exception applies to those persons who qualify and apply for a hobbyist exemption.  The term “hobbyist” refers to an individual or an organization who is not a commercial breeder but is (1) actively involved in any nationally recognized, organized animal sport or hobby for a period of at least one year prior to making application; or (2) participates in field trials, owns nationally-recognized breeds used specifically as hunting dogs, participates in hunting activities, has held (and continues to hold) a current valid Oklahoma hunting license and has held such license for at least one year prior to making application; or (3) qualifies as a “rescuer.”  A “Rescuer” is defined as someone – either an individual or organization – who regularly harbors dogs or cats which have no readily identifiable owner.  An individual rescuer shall be named as such on a roster of recognized rescuers furnished by a local welfare organization to the City (the Director of Finance) and recognized by the Animal Shelter.  

Once an animal rescue organization has been approved by the Chief of Police, the organization can submit a list of individual households that are authorized to serve as rescuers for that group under that organization’s permit.  You should bear in mind, however, that Tulsa is in the process of selecting a new Chief of Police, and the Police Department regulates the Animal Shelter.

If you obtain a hobbyist exemption permit, you may keep more dogs and/or cats than would normally be allowed, but you may not allow more than the number that is otherwise permitted (e.g., no more than three dogs) to remain out-of-doors.

If you are serious about obtaining a hobbyist exemption, call any of the local rescue groups or apply to be a foster care home with any of the existing animal rescue organizations.  The fee for obtaining a hobbyist exemption permit is $25.00, which must be paid along with your notarized application.  Any person who has been convicted within the last ten years of any offense related to (i) the illegal commercial breeding of dogs or cats, (ii) dog fighting, or (iii) a nuisance, cruelty or negligence offense will be disqualified from consideration for a hobbyist permit.  Persons who have two or more violations for allowing dogs or cats to roam at-large are also ineligible.  A background check will be conducted to verify the lack of violations, so a permit will not be granted immediately.  If you are serious about applying for a hobbyist exemption permit, please see the information at the end of this article.

You should be aware that as a rescuer, the permit is to allow you to do just that – foster and rescue homeless dogs and cats.  The ordinance is truly not for the purpose of allowing you to own more than the designated allowable pets.  The ordinance states that such dogs and cats are not to be kept longer than 90 days each while permanent placements are actively investigated.  Many times, rescued animals must be medically treated, socialized, or trained.  The time frame for harboring a rescued animal may be extended under those circumstances, provided certain notification requirements are met.  Rescued animals must be spayed or neutered prior to adopting them out to new homes.

Other neighboring cities and towns have similar ordinances.  If you live in a city other than Tulsa, you should contact the city attorney, animal shelter or police department (or check to see if the local library has a copy of the city ordinances) and find out exactly how many pets you are allowed.  If you receive a citation in violation of a city ordinance, please seek the advice of an attorney immediately.  He or she can advise you of your rights and help you make an informed decision on how you may want to proceed.

If you wish to apply for a Hobbyist Exemption Permit, contact the City of Tulsa, License & Collections, 111 South Greenwood Avenue, Tulsa  74120.  If you have questions about the permit, please contact the Tulsa Animal Shelter at 669-6276 and speak with Garl Willis.

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