By PAUL J. SPETRINI
NORTH KINGSTOWNâ€”After a three-month examination of the townâ€™s animal ordinance, the North Kingstown Town Council voted Monday night to scrap plans that would have restricted the number of dogs that its residents are allowed to have in their homes.
Citing a reluctance to â€śinfringe on the rights of citizensâ€ť, the council voted 5-0 to shelve the change in language that would have imposed a three-dog limit on the number of licensed dogs per household.
Council member Chuck Brennan said the main issue is that to justify such a â€śdrastic changeâ€ť in town policy, he feels there needs to be evidence that there is a major problem going unaddressed within the town.
â€śI know the main problem with dogs, from when I was on the police department, is barking and this ordinance sufficiently has a section 3.9 under public nuisances that deals with that problem,â€ť he said. â€śSo, in terms of limiting the number of dogs at residences, I would not be in favor.â€ť
â€śI can sympathize with people who have neighbors with loud dogs that bark too much,â€ť council member Carol Hueston said. â€śHowever Iâ€™m reluctant to infringe on the majority of people of North Kingstownâ€™s rights to have animals. If theyâ€™re not treating them right, I think we have things in place to take care of them. So, Iâ€™m not in favor of limiting the number of dogs.â€ť
Hueston also wondered if such a limit could lead to other unforeseen problems down the line.
â€śI think if someone has over the number of animals, they may not get them vaccinated,â€ť she said.
North Kingstown Police Chief Thomas Mulligan spoke during the public comment portion of the animal ordinance hearing and said that the department has a hard enough time enforcing the current ordinance as it is.
Mulligan said that if the proposed changes were put in place, local residents would have to take it upon themselves to make officers aware if one of their neighbors were in violation because the department wouldnâ€™t go house to house to check licenses.
Mulliganâ€™s comment echoed the thoughts of town manager Michael Embury.
â€śYou have an issue of enforcement,â€ť he said. â€śThere are 60 households with more than three dogs so what youâ€™re relying on for enforcement [is] an honor system where people come in and license their dogs.â€ť
Embury explained that, currently, animal control officers who respond to a complaint could initiate a court process if they saw that a resident has three licensed dogs on file but six in the household but, apart from forcing owners to provide a rabies certificate at the time of registration, there is â€śno way to stay on top of itâ€ť.
â€śThe time has not yet come here for this particular ordinance,â€ť council member Charlie Stamm said. â€śBut I think weâ€™ll keep our minds open and if we have problem with enforcement down the road, we can deal with it.â€ť
Before voting against the proposed change, Brennan reminded those in attendance that the town was considering closing the animal shelter and reducing the number of employees during budget talks last year and, with the next budget cycle not looking any better, said changes to the ordinance would have created more work to an already overworked staff.
Regarding the budget, the council made special note Monday to reiterate that it expects both Embury and the school department to present a series of alternate FY 2013 budgets that comply with both a possible level-funding scenario and potential tax levy increases of two and four percent.
The council and school committee will meet on Oct. 17 in a special joint meeting to begin budget discussions for the 2013 fiscal year.