The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Clovis introduces ordinance strengthening leash laws

 

CLOVIS — The Clovis city commission overwhelmingly voted to introduce an ordinance strengthening its leash laws on public property. However, enough happened at Thursday's meeting to suggest final approval could be a dogfight.

The commission, by a 6-1 vote, agreed to introduce an ordinance requiring dogs off of an owner's property have a leash no longer than six feet and be under an owner's physical control. Final approval could be considered as soon as the commission's scheduled July 19 meeting.

City Attorney David Richards said there have been various complaints about unleashed dogs running on public property, and he was part of a meeting with city administration and the Clovis Police Department, which operates the city's animal control division.

The ordinance put before the commission was the result of that meeting and a study of 10 other municipalities.

"It was kind of universal the leash laws required animals off their owner's property be on a leash and under physical control," Richards said. He said physical control was important, noting you didn't want a situation where a young child was expected to control a dog that might outweigh it.

The ordinance also dictates that voice command is not adequate. Current city code makes no judgment, and City Manager Justin Howalt said that's the problem.

"In all fairness to our officers," Howalt said, "when there is vagueness and they're trying to enforce that, it does make their jobs difficult."

Joel Butler of Clovis, the only citizen to speak about the ordinance at a mostly-empty Clovis-Carver Public Library North Annex, thinks the city is barking up the wrong tree.

Butler's house on St. Andrew's Drive runs along the city-owned Colonial Park Golf Course, and his backyard extends about six feet. That's not nearly enough space to give his golden retriever proper exercise, and the dog park at Hillcrest Park is four miles away. His solution is to play fetch with his dog using part of the golf course behind his house.

He sees the ordinance as punishing him and his dog for the bad actions of irresponsible owners and their dogs.

"If they pass this law," Butler said, "and everybody abides by it, you're going to need to build a lot more dog parks."

Butler said he appreciates the current law's vagueness, because he used it to successfully fight a citation given by an animal control officer who was in the neighborhood for another call and cited him when his dog caused no problem.

Mayor Pro Tem Juan Garza said dogs frequently run loose during soccer games at Hillcrest Park, and he said anybody bitten by one of those dogs will go after the city in court.

Commissioner Gary Elliott asked if there would be a way that an owner like Butler could prove responsibility and gain some kind of variance.

Richards said the problem with issuing waivers or variances is twofold — first in deciding the personnel and criteria to decide an owner can control the dog without a leash, and second in that an official city variance would put liability squarely on the city.

After the back-and-forth, Mayor David Lansford was OK with letting sleeping dogs lie, and keeping city code as is.

"It's in the discretion of the law enforcement officers," Lansford said. "I don't have a problem with that."

An animal control officer, Lansford reasoned, has the latitude to write a ticket or not write one. Whether the ticketed individual is an irresponsible owner whose unleashed dog bit somebody or a responsible owner whose unleashed dog did nothing, "they get their day in court in both cases."

Clovis Police Capt. Roman Romero said unleashed animals would still be handled mainly by animal control officers, though other officers could still handle egregious violations.

"I do not foresee the officers we have writing a bunch of leash tickets," Romero said. "If you've noticed, we've had a few busy weeks. Seeing a dog off leash is the least of the worries of the Clovis Police Department."

Still, Romero said he has experience as a dog handler — and while he can appreciate an owner's insistence the dog is well-trained, he said even police dogs that undergo daily training still need human restraint.

"Even with all the training in the world, they're still dogs," Romero said. "They see a squirrel, they're going to run (after it). ... I'm sorry the gentleman does not have a yard, but that is not the city of Clovis' fault."

Commissioner Chris Bryant moved for introduction of the ordinance, and Commissioner Sandra Taylor-Sawyer seconded.

Elliott cast the lone dissenting vote. He said Butler deserved answers on whether there were myriad problems with unleashed dogs behaving poorly while owners stood by, or if the real issue was dogs that were just running loose.

 

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