Animal cruelty laws are tightened

County wants to ensure critters have decent shelter, access to water

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The definition of animal cruelty was expanded this week to close what could have been used as a loophole. Commissioners also clarified the definition of animals running “at large.”

You can help

• To report animal cruelty or nuisances, or if you’re an owner who is temporarily unable to care for your animals, call Clark County Animal Control at 360-397-2488. The office is staffed 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Clark County Animal Control responds to cases in unincorporated Clark County, the city of Vancouver and the town of Yacolt. Other cities have their own animal control officers.

The county code already makes it unlawful to “willfully and cruelly kill, injure, poison, torture or torment any animal.” It also states that animals must have sufficient food “to allow for normal growth or maintenance of body weight,” sufficient access to clean water — “neither snow nor ice is an adequate water source” — and addresses the need for shelter, which varies depending on the animal.

On Tuesday, the Clark County commissioners unanimously agreed to include this requirement: “Animals shall not be confined to an area without adequate space for exercise necessary for the health of the animal or which does not allow access to a dry place for the animals to rest. The air temperature in a confinement area must be suitable for the animal involved. The confinement area must be kept reasonably clean and free from excess waste or other contaminants which could affect the animal’s health.”

The code covers civil violations and applies only in unincorporated Clark County; animal cruelty has a minimum fine of $250.

Paul Scarpelli, manager of Clark County Animal Control, said the additional language was necessary because animal control officers felt owners could make the argument that they weren’t being cruel when animals were being kept in filthy environments because the code didn’t address the quality of the animals’ living quarters.

Ideally, owners who find themselves temporarily unable to care for their animals would ask for help before the situation gets out of hand, Scarpelli said. The county works with nonprofit organizations that can provide temporary assistance.

Commissioners also agreed to clarify what it means to be “running at large.” Commissioners asked if the code applied to livestock. Scarpelli said the county is a livestock-restricted county, so there’s no free range.

The “running at large” fits in the public nuisance code, and owners can be fined $100.

The new code defines “running at large” as “animals off the owner’s or guardian’s residential property and not under physical control by leash, cord, chain, rope, cage or other suitable means of physical restraint.”

To be clear, Scarpelli said, the code does not apply to cats. There’s no leash law for cats, and he said he doesn’t want people using the code to complain about a neighbor’s cat who comes into their yard.

Scarpelli said people can “humanely” remove cats from their property and take them to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.

“Will they be cited for trespass?” asked Commissioner Tom Mielke.

“The cat?” joked Commissioner Steve Stuart.

“I don’t think we would go that far,” in citing an owner, Scarpelli said.

“What’s the definition of ‘humanely?’” joked Mielke.

“That’s the cruelty part,” Stuart said.

Stephanie Rice:360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.