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Animal Ordinance Updates

The Tulsa City Council unanimously  approved the first round of updates to the City of Tulsa Animal Code on Wednesday.

The process to update the ordinance began in October 2018, when Mayor G.T. Bynum unveiled the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Reform Plan with the goal of improving the quality of life and public safety of residents and animals in Tulsa. One part of the eight-point plan was to overhaul the Comprehensive Animal Ordinance.

In the first meeting of the Animal Welfare Commission in June 2019, Commissioners were asked to assist in reviewing the outdated animal ordinance. They conducted a robust community input process including a public online survey and four public meetings to hear comments from residents and invited subject matter experts.

“I want to thank my colleagues on the Tulsa City Council and our citizen volunteers on the Tulsa Animal Welfare Commission for the years of deliberation they have put into updating our City animal ordinance,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said.

“Working through these issues can be challenging because people are passionate about animals in Tulsa. But we want Tulsa to be the best city it can be for Tulsans and the pets they love, and I am grateful for everyone who is committed to moving us closer to that ideal.”

These updates will assist in protecting the safety and welfare of animals and humans, establish a system for regular review of fees by a citizen body, align regulations with the zoning code, and update exemption permits and procedures to improve efficiency.

“It's been a long process and I am humbled and appreciative of the collaborative effort from my colleagues as we worked on this extensive project,” Councilor Connie Dodson said.

“At this point, we are moving forward with changes that we feel provide animals with the best protection while offering our residents additional options. This work is ongoing, and additional changes may occur as we gather more information and continue to listen to the concerns of our citizens. Tonight’s vote is just a small part of the City’s efforts to improve Tulsa’s animal-related processes.”

Highlights of approved amendments are included below, organized by section. A full, red-lined version of the ordinance is available here.

Section 100: Definitions

The following definitions were added to support the safety of victims who are attacked by an animal:
- Animal Bite
- Severe injury

The following definitions were amended to help with the enforcement of loose animals:
- At large
- Confined on premise
- Leash
- Nuisance Animal
- Removed at heel

The following definitions were amended to support public education efforts on spay and neutering as well as supporting animal welfare organizations that partner with City of Tulsa Animal Welfare operations and shelter:
- Intact Animal
- Rescue organization
- Rescuer
- Foster

Other definitions provided clarification and updates for efficiency and standardization of processes:
- Proof of ownership

Section 101: Offenses

Animal Count: Updates the number of pets allowed to live in one household to five dogs or cats over the age of four months. Previously, no more than three of the five animals could be dogs.
Leash Law: Removes the allowance for a dog to be off the premises of its owner when at heel, meaning all dogs must be on a leash or under physical control. This was amended to help with enforcement of loose animals.
Penalties: Any offenses that affected public safety or public health, e.g. refusing to turn in a rabies suspected animal, were changed to have a maximum penalty of $1200 and/or six months in jail. Any offenses that may be considered minor nuisance were assigned maximum penalty of $500 or less.
Nuisance Penalties: The Council has added a provision that if a person’s animal is found to be a nuisance a second or subsequent time, a penalty assessed could be as high as a $1200 fine and/or six months in jail.
Penalty for Dog or Cock Fighting: The penalty for owning or harboring any animal or fowl poultry for the purpose of fighting was increased to a maximum of $1200 and/or six months in jail. Previously it was a maximum fine of $750 and imprisonment of up to 90 days in jail.
Destruction of Property: Added an offense making it unlawful to permit an animal to destroy or damage property other than the owner’s property.

Section 104: License Fees

License fees: The Animal Welfare Commission (AWC) received a lot of feedback and public comment on fees and how they are established. There was a lot of concern that any increases to fees, especially to exemption permits, would make it cost prohibitive for many to apply. In response to this, the AWC approved language that would allow for an annual review fees for services, taking into consideration cost associated for providing these services. This language mirrors similar processes in other boards and commission, e.g. Park fees. All fees would have to be voted and approved by City Council.

Section 106: Rabies Suspect

Quarantine at home: Changes were made to provide clarification and support for enforcement. A provision was made to allow owners quarantine their animal at home if they can prove that their animal has current a current rabies vaccination and was not at large. Language was added to clarify that if an animal is quarantined at home, it would be at the owner’s expense and liability.

Section 109: Release to Animal Welfare Organizations

Animal Rescue Requirement: Adds a requirement that animal welfare organizations that receive animals from the City’s shelter must provide documentation to Tulsa Animal Welfare from a licensed veterinarian of the animal’s sterilization within one hundred twenty (120) days of the animal’s release.

Section 116: Notice of Impoundment

Notice of Impoundment: Provides a process for a municipal judge to impound an animal for health and safety related offenses existing in the Animal Code.

Section 117: Exemption Permits

Permit Categories: Previously, all exemption permit types were defined as a Hobbyist Exemption. Now permits are broken down into four types or categories to reduce confusion:
          Hobbyist exemption permit - allows pets that participate or train in events to remain intact and/or allows more than the total of five dogs or cats. These amendments will allow citizens to be involved in dog/cat shows, agility competitions and other formal activities with their animals and some of those activities require that the pet remain intact.
          Intact Animal exemption permit – allows a pet to remain intact if a citizen has a veterinarian statement for a medical exemption related to the health of the dog or cat
          Animal Count exemption permit – allows more than the total of five pets if a citizen takes on the care of a cat or dog owned by an immediate family member who is unable to care for the animal because of military deployment, admission to a facility that does not permit animals (e.g., jail, nursing home), physical or mental illness or infirmity, or has died. This exemption also limits the number of pets based on property size.
          Animal Rescuer exemption permit– the number of rescue groups has grown in Tulsa and most of them are foster based. This exemption allows a citizen to foster for a recognized/approved rescue group with those fostered animals being intact and the number in the household to exceed the number allowed by ordinance, current and proposed.

Section 200: Agricultural animals

Cattle: Removed requirement for 1 acre per head of cattle and changed it to just 1 acre for the pen, lot, or enclosure. This was based on WIN recommendation that cows do not need 1 acre per cow.
Horses: Added AG-R to list of residential zoning categories where horses are allowed. Horses in AG-R (and other residential districts) must have 1 acre of usable land (includes the barn but not the home or house area). This is not a change to the previous ordinance, just an addition of AG-R.
All horses must be registered with WIN now, including on AG zoned property. Based on discussion with WIN and frequency of lost horses—would make it easier to find owners
Rabbits: Limited the number of rabbits kept in areas not zoned for agriculture (AG) or agricultural residential (AG-R) to six adults and 14 young under the age of eight weeks.
Poultry: Councilors decided that there should be no changes to existing poultry regulations, maintaining the current status until the Council can reach a consensus as to how these regulations should be amended.

Section 202: Keeping of miniature pigs as pets

Miniature Pigs: Adds a new section to permit and regulate the keeping of a miniature pig as a pet.

Section 406: Outdoor Shelter Requirements

Climatic Conditions: Added language to provide support for enforcement of safety and welfare of residents and animals.

Section 505: Retrieving I.D. from dead animals

Identification of Dead Animals: Updated language to include current City department Streets and Stormwater. Additionally, it was codified that Streets and Stormwater would check for microchip or pet license tags on every dead dog and cat picked up by the City of Tulsa. Codified a proactive strategy to bring closure to families with stray or deceased pets.

Section 600: Dangerous Dogs

Definitions: Terms and definitions in this section were moved to Chapter 1 to assist with public notification.

Section 703: Reptiles

Reptiles: Eliminates the lengthy list of reptiles that are not prohibited, but retains the list of reptiles which are prohibited, leaving it so that if a reptile is not on the prohibited list, it is automatically not prohibited.