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Bemidji City Council approves new pet rules

Bemidji residents will be restricted on the number of dogs and cats they may own.

The City Council Monday evening voted 4-2 to adopt a proposed ordinance that caps the number of dogs and cats that residents may own, requires annual licensing of cats, and prohibits at-large running of dogs and cats.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after legal publication.

Voting in favor were Mayor Richard Lehmann and Councilors Jerry Downs, Ron Johnson and Greg Negard. Opposed were Councilors Barb Meuers and Kevin Waldhausen. Councilor Roger Hellquist was absent.

Meuers said she was against the proposal because she did not feel the city should be making ordinances that it cannot effectively enforce. She, instead, supported enforcement of the city's nuisance laws and said the city should go after feral cats.

Negard, however, said the city's current rules only address dogs.

"I think it kind of handcuffs our community service officers ... from taking care of, for example, feral cats," he said.

Lehmann said, as a dog owner, he is required to keep his animal under control at all times and have a license. He added that cat licensing requirements could actually help cat owners.

"We'll have a way to contact (cat owners) because we'll have a record of them," he said.

Pet owners will be allowed to own up to three dogs or three cats, or a total of four dogs and cats. Those who now own more than the allowed number may keep their animals. However, if a dog or cat dies, it may not be replaced if a new animal would put the pet owner above the allowed number. The same exceptions apply for township residents that are annexed into the city limits and new residents who move into city limits.

Exceptions were added that would pertain to "legacy" issues. For instance, if a relative dies or is on military deployment, his or her animals could be cared for by a city resident who already owns the limit of dogs and/or cats.

There also is a possibility of residents being permitted to own up to two additional dogs or two additional cats (not both) if they are rescuing or sheltering abandoned or lost animals.

The ordinance also was amended to also to allow dogs who are leash-less if they are trained to follow their owner's voice or are contained via an invisible fence.

"A lot of folks train and have obedience training and are able to control dogs verbally or through commands and they don't necessarily need to use a leash," said City Attorney Al Felix.