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Animal lovers crusade ends with new pet exception permit

Mar 19, 2019 09:57PM ● By Travis Barton

West Valley City residents are now allowed an exception to city code to own up to four household pets—dogs and cats in this instance—in any combination. (Pixabay)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley City residents can now own up to four cats or four dogs if they qualify for a special “pet exception permit.” After months of discussions, the West Valley City Council unanimously approved the ordinance on March 5.   

Previously, residents could own up to four household pets, but no more than two cats, dogs or pot-bellied pigs. Someone could have owned two cats and two dogs, but not any further combination. The exception, almost five months in the making, means residents can now own up to four dogs or cats, but not more than four household pets.

 

‘Like my family’

Jim Vesock loves cats. And that might be understated. He has them tattooed on his arms, they are included in his family trust and he names them after another of his loves: the Oakland Raiders. He refers to Raidat (Raider cat) and Raidan (Raider fan) as his “furkids.” 

It was last October when Vesock was at the West Valley City Animal Shelter during a free adoption event. He was looking for a third cat to join the two black ones he already owned. 

After about two hours, he connected with a feline going on a few months at the shelter. Went to the counter to begin the adoption process, telling employees that cat would fit perfectly with his cats at home. 

No it wouldn’t, he was told. City code didn’t allow residents to have more than two cats and two dogs. 

“Wait a minute, I can adopt two dogs right now, but I can’t adopt another cat?” Vesock asked. 

They said no. 

That started a months-long crusade urging the city council to change the ordinance, established by a previous administration, allowing for an exception. 

For Vesock, it wasn’t simply about getting a third pet, it was about simplifying the process for others. 

“That was the whole goal, to get more pets adopted out of the shelter and into their forever homes,” he said. “(The ordinance) was wrong is what it was and I wanted to fix an injustice to help animals.”

Vesock felt it would be beneficial to the city as well, possibly lowering the number of animals in the shelter and providing further revenue through adoption fees. 

While some might argue they are just animals, that idea doesn’t resonate with Vesock. 

“They’re not just pets to me,” he said. “They’re like my family.”

 

‘My dog saved my life’

Vinh Nguyen can empathize. 

Nguyen has four Labrador retrievers. But in November, after a complaint from a neighbor, he was cited by code enforcement who told him he would need to get rid of two of his dogs by the following week. After an emotional plea to the city council during its Nov. 20 meeting, Nguyen was later issued a variance until the future of the pet ordinance was decided. 

Vesock described Nguyen’s plea as “tearjerking.” Nguyen, a resident of almost 20 years in West Valley City, then joined Vesock in his campaign to change city code. 

“I’m completely ecstatic,” he said about the unanimous vote. “Not only are they going to help our (his and Vesock’s) respective families, but it’s also going to help out a lot of homeless pets.” 

Nguyen echoed Vesock’s sentiments. The dog owner doesn’t refer to his dogs as pets, he calls them his kids, dismayed when people call them property. 

Why is Nguyen so passionate about dogs? For him it’s easy. They probably saved his life. 

When he was 3 years old, Nguyen got lost in his native Vietnam when his dog (aptly named Lucky) found him, grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him home. 

“My dog saved my life,” he said. “What else can you say?”


‘Special privilege’ 

For city officials, discussions generally revolved around whether it was necessary to change the ordinance. And if so, at what number do you limit the amount of dogs or cats? 

There was also concern by allowing four dogs to a home, it could lead to more neighbor complaints and create enforcement issues. City officials were concerned this would require more discretion and interpretation for code enforcement officers.

Layne Morris is the community preservation director, the department which oversees the animal shelter. During the March 5 study meeting prior to the vote, Morris told the council he was nervous about where they draw the line for punishment on someone with the pet exception permit. 

Nguyen was cited after a neighbor complained, Morris said, but the complaint wasn’t that the dogs were running loose or barking all night, it was that they are “a problem for the neighborhood generally.” 

“How do we as a staff come up with some sort of criteria to say this is something more than just a neighbor with thin skin? Or somebody who realizes, ‘if I complain three times, he’s going to lose those dogs,’” Morris said. “How do we define what is too much when it comes to four dogs that crosses some kind of threshold that we can take to court and win? Any more than we can do that with two dogs?”

Though some councilmembers had their reservations about allowing four dogs, all voted unanimously 6-0 (Councilman Don Christensen was absent). 

“This is only going to work for responsible owners,” Vesock said. “I know that, I’m not delusional, you’re still going to have people out there that don’t know cats have to be licensed.” 

Nguyen felt those willing to go through the process for the new pet exception permit would be responsible owners who take care of them. 

“Just because you allow more doesn’t mean you’re all of a sudden going to have an influx of people going out and getting (pets),” he reasoned.  

Certain criteria must be met for any resident to apply for a pet exception permit (see sidebar).

“In my mind, this is a special privilege, and it ought to be…more stringent to maintain that,” Councilman Steve Buhler said. 


Pet exception permit criteria:

·     Owners must complete the applications and fees 

·     All dogs and cats are rendered sterile and microchipped

·     Adequate areas for confinement and shelter are provided

·     Owners have not violated this code within the past year

 

Animals allowed as household pets under city code:

·     Amphibians

·     Arachnids

·     Birds (such as cockatiel, parakeet, canary)

·     Cats

·     Female chickens

·     Dogs

·     Ducks

·     Ferrets

·     Fish

·     Hedgehogs

·     Insects

·     Pot-bellied pigs (must be less than 150 pounds, tusks must be trimmed)

·     Rabbits

·     Reptiles

·     Rodents (such as hamster or mouse)