Previously, I covered the current requirements in Chapter 215, Article II of Marshfield City Code for anyone owning a presumptively dangerous dog inside the city limits. Here I will focus on the purpose and enforcement issues with Article I, regarding all dogs. The next column will end the topic by specifically addressing pit bulls and enforcement of the code.
In my laymen’s opinion, Article I was enacted in 1983 to help prevent the spread of rabies. It requires each dog owner to register their animal annually by providing proof of rabies vaccination to the city and receive a different color annual tag for easy compliance verification. Interestingly, while it is required that each owner register their dogs annually, it is not mandated that city staff enforce the registration requirement. There is no “Shall” statement that requires the city to impound an unregistered dog. You might recall from the previous column that “may” in the code means city staff can use discretion, while “shall” means they must enforce without discretion. Regarding dogs that are not pit bulls, the code simply states that the city “may” impound a dog at large; however, it also says they “shall” keep a record of registered dogs. As a result of the way the code is written, there is no enforcement to address the original intent of the code, which is to address the spread of rabies. We know that because as of the time I wrote this column, only two dogs (other than pit bulls) in the city of Marshfield have been registered in 2021. Now, the city has done their job by keeping a neat record of all two dogs, but dog owners have not complied with (and may not be aware of) the requirement to register every year. The city does have a list of dogs that have registered at least once over the past several years (over 800), but they do not know which of those animals still live in the city, which are still alive, or if the rabies vaccination has been updated.
This is great material for “The Other Side,” because it is the way the code is written that has allowed it to be rendered ineffective in achieving its original purpose. Rabies vaccination is only required every three years today, so if the code were written today for same purpose, it would likely require registration every three years instead of one. Still, imagine the cost of impounding every unregistered dog (all but two). When the cost of enforcement is weighed against the impact that rabies has had on our community since 1983, I am guessing we would not choose to have this code on our books today.
Tune in next time for a final commentary on pit bulls (only 17 registered in 2021). Meanwhile feel free to email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “The Other Side” as your email subject. You can also find the topic post on facebook. Go to @marshfieldmail to have your say this week.