The stereotype of the “crazy cat lady” who keeps scores of cats is so well-worn that it’s now little more than an offensive punchline. But in the city of Meridian, Mississippi, the authorities are more worried about people who own too many dogs. The City Council just passed an ordinance limiting residents to no more than three dogs apiece.
Although the council in the city of about 41,000 insists that the ordinance is for the benefit of dogs and humans, it’s being vigorously attacked by owners and shelters alike. The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine from $50 to $1,000, with as long as 90 days in jail. Every day that a household exceeds the limit, it will be prosecuted as a separate misdemeanor, just as if every day someone were caught burgling a different house.
The ordinance doesn’t make allowances for owners who already have more than three dogs, which means that some people are going to have to start making some hard choices if the ordinance remains. Councilman Randy Hammon says that those people will just have to cope with it.
“They are going to have to grow up, get fewer pets,” Hammon told the Meridian Star. “We are not in a city where people need to be raising dogs.”
Whoa, Mr. Hammon. Just, whoa.
Ashley Owen Hill of Lucky Dog Rescue offered a different perspective: “For a lot of people, dogs are their children, and this is basically asking them to get rid of some of their children, pick and choose between which children they can keep, and without any warning or real reason.”
But to Hammon and other supporters of the ordinance, they’re protecting the community from pet owners who have no consideration for either their pets or their neighbors. In one recent case, a single person was keeping 38 dogs on one piece of property; when animal control came in, officers took away only six of the dogs.
“You need to have your neighbors’ best interests at heart as well as your own,” Hammon says. “If you want to raise them or sell them, go out in the county, get a pen and set yourself up.”
Cats aren’t included in the law. Meridian residents can continue to have as many cats — or any other domestic animal — as they want because the city doesn’t see them causing as many problems in terms of noise and crowding. The ordinance was inspired by residents who complained about their neighbors keeping large numbers of dogs, such as the one that Hammon mentioned.
Councilwoman Kim Houston made a similar argument: “To have 10 or 20 dogs in one tight spot in a fence without the ability to really move around is really not good for the animal, the owner, or the neighbors.”
No doubt, and we advocate against this type of hoarding. But a limit of three? Even if the dogs are happy and healthy with all the space they need? And did we mention that people who’ll have to get rid of animals they love?
The extra dogs will eventually have to go somewhere, and that means that a lot of them will probably wind up in shelters, perhaps being killed before they can find a family. It’s hard to argue that someone should be keeping 38 dogs in an urban area, but the strict limit might be going after the problem with an awfully big stick, especially when you consider how much people love their dogs.
Hill acknowledges the problem of overcrowding in homes and shelters, but she believes that the ordinance is the wrong solution. She favors promoting spaying and neutering of dogs.
“That cuts down on the overpopulation,” she says. “That cuts down on the issues with overcrowding as well, so I think that’s where the focus should be instead of on limiting the number of pets people can have.”