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Cats, dogs and pet store pups: Big changes to Boise’s animal code

The city code regulating Boiseans’ furry friends will get a major overhaul. 

On Tuesday, Boise City Council unanimously passed a total rewrite of the city’s animal code with clearer definitions of animal cruelty, clarifications on the role of animal control officers and prohibits the sale of animals out of cardboard boxes in public. It also bans the display of exotic animals, like elephants, in circus acts within city limits. 

[Lower stress boosts outcomes for animals at new Humane Society shelter]

City Council Member Thomson first brought the proposed changes to the code before Boise City Council in mid-2019 after consulting with the Idaho Humane Society and other stakeholders, but it never moved past a work session. Prior to the hearing, he joked that the animal code rewrite had almost become his “life’s work” because of how long it took to put together. 

“These are all common sense changes, nothing radical and nothing that hasn’t shown to be successful in other states around the country,” he said, describing his rewrite as a “compassionate” animal code. 

New and clearer protections for pets

Over a dozen people testified on the proposal in the public hearing, including representatives from several animal rights groups. The majority were positive and applauded Thomson’s work on the issue, even if they might have some small concerns with the changes. 

Tania Yegge, who volunteers with animals, got emotional during her testimony and praised the city for taking action against animal cruelty. 

“The things I’ve witnessed in my time as an animal advocate are nightmares,” she said. “There is no other word. The level of cruelty humans can be capable of and pass onto their children is beyond disturbing.”

The proposal covers a range of topics, including a “good Samaritan” clause to protect people who break windows of cars to rescue animals in hot weather and options for a pet license valid for multiple years. Rabies vaccinations are required and the definition of barking dogs and the process for violations has been simplified. 

The ordinance would also change the requirements to obtain the non-commercial kennel license required for anyone to have more than four dogs and five cats. Under the new changes, owners would be able to choose between going door to door to get permission from nearby neighbors or have the city mail postcards to those within 100 feet.

Cats at large

The section of the code that garnered the most discussion dealt with feral cats. The change would codify Idaho Humane Society’s 2017 policy to capture stray cats people have complained about, spay and neuter them and then return the animals to where they were found. 

Idaho Humane Society CEO Jeff Rosenthal said this policy, called “return to field”, dramatically increased the save rate for cats because often they can become distressed in the shelter and infrequently are claimed by owners. If they are returned to their environment after treatment, it will stop the growth of the colony and allow them to continue their lives. 

“We advocate strongly for all cats to be kept indoors, but the reality is cats have been in this community for a long time,” he said. “Some may call them invasive species, but they’re not murder hornets that flew out of a shipping container a year ago. They’ve been roaming this community for a long time. Cats are part of our ecosystem, like it or not.”

This program is not favored by everyone, though. Liz Urban with the Golden Eagle Audubon Society testified against this policy going into city code because of the impact cats can have on the environment because of the amount of birds they kill each year. Instead, she said they should be kept inside and the city should try and find a solution more favorable to everyone. 

No more pet store puppies

Other changes in the ordinance would ban pet stores from selling dogs and cats bred for commercial use, which Thomson calls “the puppy mill loophole.” Stores would be required to source their animals from shelters or non profit rescues. Thomson said there is currently not a pet store in Boise selling animals that meets these criteria.

The animal code changes would not impact hunting and would not shut down private breeders, but the animals bred in those businesses could not be sold in pet stores. It would also include a more detailed definition of animal cruelty, which includes animal hoarding, exposing animals to extreme heat or cold, willfully poisoning animals and lack of sufficient food or water.

There was some debate if the code’s ban of exchanging ownership of animals in the public right-of-way would impact breeders signing animals over to new owners at the Boise Airport. Thomson said he thought carving out the airport wasn’t necessary because breeders were already protected, but legal staff will look into the matter before it’s passage is finalized. 

Council Members were complimentary of the proposal and Thomson’s work to take input and get it ready for passage. City Council President Elaine Clegg, who had a lot of questions about the original version in 2019, praised the revamped version. 

“I know I was seen as one of the primary critics of this when this when it first came to us, not in a critic of what it was trying to do, but because I’m such a policy geek I wanted to make sure we get things as perfect as possible so that as we enact them they are enforceable, that they are doing what we said we wanted to do and they’ve truly reflect the intent of the author,” Clegg said. “

“TJ, I can only say that I believe this does this, not because of my objections, but because of your hard work. You deserve a lot of credit for that.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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