Hornell officials have ruled that families in town will be limited to a maximum of four dogs following what they describe as “quality of life” issues related to “large collections” of dogs.
Cat lovers have long been limited to five felines per residence at Hornell, while dog owners have always been allowed to keep as many as they wanted.
That’s about to change.
On April 18, Hornell Common Council unanimously approved an ordinance limiting the number of dogs allowed per household to a maximum of four over the age of four months.
City officials said the ordinance targets a problem that has worsened in recent years: unsanitary and unsafe living conditions at residences with double-digit dog populations.
The new limit won’t go into effect until May 18, and Hornell residents who currently have more than four dogs allowed won’t necessarily have to say goodbye to their pets.
Mayor: a new ordinance is a measure of quality of life
City officials said there have been numerous cases — over several years — of households with large collections of dogs living in poor conditions.
Complaints come from neighbors and the city receives referrals from social service agencies, schools and fire departments, officials said.
Hornell Mayor John Buckley said the situation had impacted the quality of life in Hornell and, in some cases, children at risk.
“We’ve seen a growing trend where people have these big collections of dogs,” Buckley said. “We’ve had referrals about a child who lives in a house and they have eight dogs, nine dogs. And the child is in poor health, the quality of life is suffering.”
Buckley said these situations have occurred in both owner-occupied single-family homes and rental properties.
In one case investigated by the Hornell Codes Enforcement Office, 19 dogs lived in a structure.
Buckley said: “We’re not talking about a breeder. We’re not talking about someone who has a kennel license. The condition of the dogs was horrible. They weren’t fed properly. There was feces everywhere, urine everywhere.”
According to officials, even in the most crowded and dangerous conditions discovered, the city has few options with no limit on the number of dogs.
NYS municipalities set dog limits
In New York State, there are no statewide laws governing the number of dogs a person can own or keep on a property. Regulation is left to the municipalities
Hornell’s cat limit has been on the books for many years, but there was no limit to the number of dogs a residence could have.
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“You could actually have 50 dogs and if they’re all licensed, they’re perfectly legal,” Buckley said. “People would agree that would be an absurd number of dogs to have, but we were having cases, I think 19 was the highest, but we had several out of eight, nine, ten, a dozen, in that litter.”
Hornell looked to other municipalities to see what they had on the books. Buckley said the city has learned that almost every city has limits in place.
Two cities much larger than Hornell — Rochester and Buffalo — have stricter boundaries than Hornell City Council has approved.
In Buffalo, single-family homes, two-family homes, and commercial properties are allowed to have three dogs over four months old.
Rochester residents who live on properties of three units or less can own and keep up to four dogs over the age of four months. Properties that have four or more units are permitted to have one dog per household that is four months or older.
Bud Burdett, director of facilities management and neighborhood revitalization for Hornell, researched municipalities closer to home, checking out the towns of Corning and Olean and the village of Dansville.
Burdett said Corning and Dansville have limits of four dogs over four months old.
Olean takes a different approach, allowing no more than a combined total of four cats and dogs in one residence, Burdett said.
Burdett reported his findings to the Laws and Ordinances Committee of the Common Council which, after lengthy study, sent a measure essentially identical to Dansville’s to the full board for approval.
Buckley said the Common Council crafted the law in a “thoughtful and caring manner”.
“This was not a decision taken lightly and many factors were considered,” said Jessica Cleveland, alderwoman for the 6th Ward and deputy mayor. “As a pet owner, I really wanted to make sure the well-being of family and pets was considered, while balancing those who might also be negatively affected.”
Duane Street resident Joe Hicks, who recently adopted one-year-old mixed-race Buddy from the Hornell Area Humane Society, is delighted the Common Council passed the ordinance, but said he would have preferred a stricter limit.
“I think four is too many,” Hicks said on a recent walk with Buddy. “They say if you have three you will have a pack and they will start fighting over who will be the leader.
“It depends on the size of the dog, but you still don’t want a dozen Chihuahuas in your house.”
The Humane Society told Hicks that Buddy spent most of his freshman year locked in a crowded barn with many animals. Hicks said Buddy was still affected by those prior conditions. He is shy and easily frightened on walks.
“He’s freaking out. His poor cock is sticking up between his legs and he’s like, ‘I want to go home,'” Hicks said.
Burdett acknowledged that some residents might wonder why the city made the change, but he expects most people to stick to the limits.
“It all comes down to safety and making sure we have a quality of life in our neighborhoods that people are comfortable with and like to get out and enjoy their properties,” he said.
Order includes grace period, ‘grandfather clause’
Since the ordinance does not take effect until May 18, dog owners have some leeway. The restriction will not apply to households that currently have more than four dogs over four months old, provided the dogs are legally permitted at the time the order takes effect.
“In those cases, they’re grandfathered — they did it the right way to begin with, so those people won’t be affected,” said Buckley, who noted his family has two dogs.
The grace period also allows households that have more than four dogs to enter the time frame by obtaining a pet license before May 18.
“Let’s say you have five or six dogs now, and they’re unregistered, that gives you an opportunity to come to the city clerk’s office and register the dogs,” Buckley said.
All dogs over the age of four months must be allowed at Hornell. The cost is $7.50 if the animal is neutered and $15.50 if it is not. Proof of a rabies vaccine is required. The license must be renewed annually.
According to the City Clerk’s Office, there are currently approximately 1,500 dogs allowed in Hornell. This does not necessarily reflect the number of dogs in the city, as owners do not always alert the clerk’s office when a dog dies or is given away.
Laura Dunning, shelter manager for the Hornell Area Humane Society, said she doesn’t expect the shelter to have an influx of dogs as a result of Hornell’s new order, given the grace period and allowances for those who already have more than four authorized dogs. .
Dunning noted that owning multiple dogs is a challenge, even outside of city restrictions. She said the cost of food and veterinary care for many pets can be prohibitive, and dogs need ample space to stay healthy and thrive.
But she added: “If you can afford to take care of that many dogs, you should be fine.”
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