Animal Control Board
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
City Hall Penn Room
Members Attending: R. Rosato, President, H. Brown, Vice President, L. Sarangoulis, D. Straub
Others Attending: S. Smith, Deputy City Clerk; T. Hubric, Acting ARL Executive Director; Police Chief Dominguez, J. Slifko, City Council District 6
Call to Order
Mr. Rosato called the meeting to order at 6:07 pm.
A quorum was present.
Fritz Rothermel, of the 300 block of Douglass St, stated that there are dangerous dogs in the Centre Park neighborhood. He noted the need for clarity and protocol. He described a situation that occurred on February 22 in Centre Park where a pit bull attacked and killed another dog. He stated that the police responded.
Mr. Rothermel described a past attack on his dog by a pit bull. He stated that he was unable to obtain a copy of the police report for the February 22 incident. He stated that in the past Reading had regulations specific to pit bulls and understands that they needed to repeal these regulations because they were breed specific. He stated that the park is used by area residents for picnics, allowing small children to run and for walking dogs.
Mr. Rothermel described how the owners of several area pit bulls have problems controlling the animals when they are in public spaces. He expressed the belief that the owners live in the Centre Park neighborhood.
Tom Fox, of the 300 block of Douglass St, stated that he also saw the police response on February 22 but didn’t realize until later what had occurred. He stated that a pit bull tried to attack his dog but he successfully kept the dogs apart.
Ms. Sarangoulis questioned if the same owner’s animal was responsible for both incidences. Mr. Fox and Mr. Rothermel stated that they were unsure.
Mr. Brown introduced Berks County’s Dog Warden, Adam Yourkawitch. He stated that dogs must be declared dangerous or aggressive by the State or by local police.
Mr. Yourkawitch explained that the Dog Wardens are part of the PA Dept of Agriculture. He stated that a Reading Police officer spoke with the victim and she did not wish to file charges. He stated that this incident would meet the criteria to declare the dog as aggressive as the attack was unprovoked, off the owner’s property, and resulted in significant harm.
Mr. Yourkawitch explained that most victims do not press charges and prefer only restitution. He stated that he explains the process to victims who decide that they either do not want to testify or do not want the attacking dog punished. He stated that if a dog is found to be aggressive there are specific regulations to be followed and most owners will put the dog down rather than follow them.
Mr. Yourkawitch explained that, unlike other penal codes, he cannot file charges in lieu of the victim. He stated that he works to protect the public to the best of his ability but cannot take action in these situations. He stated that animals are considered private property and cannot be seized without proper due process.
Mr. Rosato questioned what Mr. Yourkawitch can do when responding to this type of situation. Mr. Yourkawitch stated that he recommends confinement and issues a citation.
Mr. Rosato questioned what could be done if the owner cannot control the animal in public. Mr. Yourkawitch stated that if the owner is trying to control the animal he cannot take action. He stated that the animal must break free before he can intervene.
Mr. Rosato noted his concern that this animal remains in the neighborhood and that this situation could happen again. He questioned what could be done to offer protection from future attacks.
Mr. Straub questioned if the dog had a license and was current on shots. Chief Dominguez stated that the animal is licensed and current on shots.
Mr. Straub suggested that those who are licensed to carry handguns could use them to kill the attacking animal if necessary. Chief Dominguez warned against this. He suggested that residents allow the police to handle the situation. He stated that police officers have shot attacking animals when necessary. He noted the need for citizens to be able to prove that the animal was on their private property and that they were under attack.
Chief Dominguez stated that the responding officer did all that he was able to. He agreed with Mr. Yourkawitch that as property the officer could not confiscate the animal. He stated that the owner did bring the animal to City Hall the next day and provided ownership and vaccination information. He stated that the owner was cited and has been fined.
Mr. Rosato questioned what the owner was cited for. Chief Dominguez stated that the citation was for public nuisance and not controlling and confining the animal.
Mr. Rothermel questioned the date of the police report. Chief Dominguez stated that it was February 22, 2018.
Mr. Straub questioned the timeline to file charges if the victim changes her mind. Mr. Brown stated that charges can be filed within one year. Mr. Yourkawitch agreed and added that if the attacking dog has been put down in the meantime, charges cannot be filed.
Ms. Sarangoulis stated that neighbors are clearly concerned. She questioned if using pepper spray on the animal would be effective. Mr. Brown stated that human pepper spray is a deterrent and can be used. He stated that only authorized officers may carry animal pepper spray which is much more powerful. He stated that air horns are effective as they hurt the animal’s ears and that pit bulls do not like the smell of citronella and is available in spray form.
Ms. Sarangoulis stated that this animal now has a history. She questioned if the owner could be encouraged to muzzle the animal when it is in public. Mr. Yourkawitch stated that he encourages owners to muzzle each time he responds to an incident. He stated that PA does not have a leash law. He clarified that he cannot enforce local laws. He stated that local laws can be enforced by local police only.
Ms. Sarangoulis questioned if Mr. Yourkawitch could patrol this area. Mr. Yourkawitch stated that he is responsible for all of Berks County but he would be willing to patrol the area if residents can determine a pattern of when this specific animal is at the park.
Captain Winters arrived at this time.
Ms. Sarangoulis questioned if Mr. Brown could be stationed nearby. Mr. Brown stated that he also covers all of Berks County.
Mr. Rosato noted the need for neighborhood diligence. Mr. Brown agreed but warned to call the authorities only when incidences are occurring or you could be cited for filing false reports.
Mr. Rothermel requested that the local ordinance be reviewed to determine if additional restraints can be added. He expressed the belief that these animals are ticking time bombs in the neighborhood.
Mr. Slifko suggested that the Board review the local ordinance to see if the regulations can be further strengthened. He stated that this is a very real problem in this neighborhood. He suggested that regulations of other municipalities be reviewed. Ms. Smith stated that the regulations were reviewed in 2014 but that she will do further research. Mr. Rosato stated that the Board is willing to review the regulations.
Mr. Brown stated that 40% of the complaints in Reading concern pit bulls. He stated that other large numbers concern German Shepherds and Chihuahuas.
Mr. Rothermel, Mr. Fox and Mr. Slifko left the meeting at this time.
Approval of Minutes
Motion was made by Mr. Straub, seconded by Ms. Sarangoulis, to approve the May 30, 2017 minutes as written. Motion carried unanimously.
Animal Control Agency Report
Ms. Smith called the Board’s attention to Mr. Hubric’s written report. Captain Winters and Mr. Yourkawitch left the meeting at this time.
Mr. Hubric stated that the ARL has become a no kill shelter. He explained that animals may still be euthanized but the shelter’s goal is a live release rate of 90% or better. He stated that the ARL has hired an animal behaviorist to work with dogs to determine if they are eligible for adoption or if they would pose a risk to the public. He stated that they have started a trap, neuter, return (TNR) program. He stated that this has increased ARL’s veterinary services but can have a profound effect on the feral cat colonies throughout the county. He stated that he also has teams of volunteers setting traps in neighborhoods with large colonies.
Mr. Straub thanked Mr. Hubric for the TNR program. He stated that he has wanted this program in Reading for many years.
Mr. Hubric stated that the ARL has also installed a smart lock system on the after-hours stray building. He stated that this building is intended for law enforcement use or for pets that are found after hours but has become a dumping ground for unwanted pets. He stated that the ARL has hired a second shift and that the lock requires you to speak with staff (live or via cell phone) before leaving animals. He stated that Mr. Steckman was informed of this change and stated that law enforcement agencies have key codes. He supplied Reading’s code to Chief Dominguez.
Mr. Hubric stated that the ARL has completed a cost analysis. He stated that the cost analysis confirms that the ARL and its staff are underpaid. He stated that he has met with Mr. Steckman about using a fee for service model or providing a larger annual payment. He noted the need for the ARL to better cover its expenses. He explained that Reading pays an annual fee but that other municipalities make a simple donation. He stated that these payments cover less than 50% of expenses. He stated that this is not sustainable.
Mr. Straub questioned if increasing fines would provide additional revenue. Mr. Brown stated that citations and fines are issued under State regulations. (Note: citations can also be made under the local ordinance.) He stated that the ARL and municipalities receive a very small portion of the fine.
Mr. Hubric expressed the belief that all municipalities should enforce their animal regulations and make an increased donation. He suggested that Reading could try to pass their animal control costs onto its residents. He stated that the ARL is happy to provide this service but that the current model is not sustainable.
Mr. Straub questioned if this information would be presented to City Council. Mr. Hubric stated that the City pays $135,000 annually. He stated that this is less than 50% of their costs but that other municipalities pay much less.
Ms. Sarangoulis questioned if these municipalities know their costs. Mr. Hubric stated that he will be meeting with each municipality and present their data. He stated that some shelters use a per capita fee for animal services. He stated that he does not support this model as it smells like a tax.
Mr. Straub questioned if the ARL gets a portion of County dog license fees. Mr. Brown stated that the ARL receives $1 per license only for licenses sold by the ARL.
Mr. Straub questioned if the County would be willing to provide a portion of all dog licenses. Mr. Hubric stated that he approached the County Commissioners and was told they did not support this.
Mr. Hubric stated that he will be working with Mr. Steckman on new contract terms for Reading. He stated that Mr. Steckman indicated that the City would consider in-sourcing the service. He expressed the belief that in-sourcing would not be cost effective. He stated that the Humane Society is not interested in serving as Reading’s animal control service.
Mr. Brown stated that the animals at 101 Arlington St are very well taken care of. He stated that the dogs are pit bulls but are very friendly and well behaved. He stated that the environment is very clean and the animals are current with all their vaccinations.
Live Poultry Market
Ms. Smith explained that this issue was brought forward by a City Councilor. She stated that she has provided her initial research to the Board.
Mr. Brown stated that this would be a live market. He reminded all that the City’s current regulations prohibit farm animals within City limits. He expressed the belief that this would need to change if a buyer takes the animal home to keep until ready to kill and butcher. Ms. Smith explained that it is her understanding that the buyer would not be taking the animal out alive.
Ms. Sarangoulis questioned if people would be able to bring their own animals to the market to have it killed and butchered. Ms. Smith stated that she was unsure.
Ms. Sarangoulis expressed the belief that Reading is centrally located to many nearby farms. She suggested that residents go there to choose their bird. She stated that the farmer will kill and butcher the animal and the resident can pick it up.
There was discussion about the possible spread of disease, inspections of the animals when they arrive, the source of purchase, inspection of the facilities, an increased need for City staff, the humane treatment of the animals, etc.
Motion was made by Mr. Straub to deny allowing live poultry markets in Reading, seconded by Mr. Rosato. Motion carried unanimously.
Mr. Brown expressed the belief that allowing live poultry markets would cause too many issues. Chief Dominguez stated that people believe in raising, feeding, killing and cooking their food.
Mr. Hubric stated that this is a growing trend. Mr. Straub agreed. He expressed the belief that it is cultural.
Chief Dominguez stated that many Caribbean islands are rural and animals are raised at home. He stated that these residents find this comforting.
Mr. Rosato expressed the belief that the City and ARL would use too many resources to inspect and enforce the market regulations.
Mr. Brown agreed with Chief Dominguez. He stated that they also like to have fresh eggs.
Mr. Rosato noted his experience with a live poultry market. He stated that they also attract lots of rodents who eat the feed.
Mr. Rosato directed Ms. Smith to poll members via email for a meeting in October.
Ms. Smith invited Mr. Rosado and Mr. Brown to the next Board of Health meeting to discuss the live poultry markets with them.
The meeting adjourned at 7:40 p.m.
Deputy City Clerk