Local Law 5 of 2019, “Dogs and Cats at Large,” was created to force locals to take responsibility for their animal’s actions. However, residents had a completely different idea.

SUNY Plattsburgh Associate Professor of Communication Studies Peter Ensil wrote the bill with the intention of holding pet owners to a higher standard. However, he had individuals oppose the bill because his wording drove another idea.

Ensel spoke with The Sun Community News—a local newspaper located in Plattsburgh, NY— about revisions to the bill.

““Those who provide food to the feral colonies would not be the presumed owner, so long as those colonies are not located on the person’s property,”  Ensel said. “The changes being proposed are expected to happen complaint-driven enforcement.”

Local Law 5 states:

“A person who keeps, maintains or harbors a dog or a cat or who knowingly allows a dog or cat to remain on the person’s property, or who regularly feeds the dog or cat on the person’s property, is presumed to be the owner of the dog or cat,” Local Law 5 reads. “A person who has charge, care, custody or control of a dog or cat is presumed to possess or control the dog or cat.”

The law was implemented by the Common Council Sept.6. It won the majority vote with only two members opposing. Ward 2 Councilor Mike Kelly said he voted no to the law because he felt it wouldn’t provide much help.

“[The cat problem] was another thing about the city that we can’t really do much about,” Kelly said. “I felt like I needed to vote no.”

Plattsburgh resident Lillian Cassidy runs a local animal rescue group called Animal Rescue and Welfare services. Cassidy was concerned with the law because it seemed to impede the work of her rescue group.

Many were under the assumption that the Common Council made it illegal to casually feed a stray cat. This became a problem for Cassidy because her rescue group has been feeding colonies of cats and practicing trap, neuter and return since being approved for an ordinance that allowed it to aid stray cats. When Cassidy found out about the law, she was sure Animal Rescue and Welfare Services mission did not follow it.

“I’ve worked in animal control for 21 years,” Cassidy said. “When it was presented, I walked out that night and though ‘ok so I’m breaking the law.”

City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read released a statement via the City of Plattsburgh website Oct. 17 to address the confusion.

“The Common Council clearly conveyed to me and stated during their discussion prior to approval that Local Law P-5 of 2019, “Dogs and Cats at Large”, that the law is not intended to impede Trap Neuter Vaccinate Release programs, nor the occasional feeding of a stray cat,” Read said. “The plain language of the Local Law requires possession and control to presume ownership, and relies on complaint-driven enforcement. Accordingly, as Mayor, I have directed the public safety departments of the City to focus enforcement only following a public complaint over owners of domesticated indoor cats who allow their animals to stray off their property and cause damage to the property of another, or who abandon their animals.”

Kelly had a similar concern to Cassidy in terms of her rescue group’s efforts to aid stray cats. He said his opposition stemmed from wanting animal rescue groups to continue their work around Plattsburgh.

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