A new animal control law was passed on Friday in Hernando County, a suburb of Tampa, Fla., that allows animal control officers to enter private property without a warrant in pursuit of stray animals. It also has provisions that allow dogs and other animals to be shot to death on site by Animal Services officers.
According to the new ordinance, "If an Animal Control Authority agent personally witness an animal at large, the agent shall have the authority to enter upon private property in pursuit of the animal," without the owner's permission or a warrant.
During earlier revisions of the new ordinance, the legality of the private property rights violations were questioned and Hernando County attorney Jon Jouben told The Tampa Tribune, that the clause that violated federally protected property rights "was never in the ordinance and couldn't be because the U.S. Constitution would forbid it."
But Joubin's statement is not supported. The clause that directly contradicts the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution remained in the final version of the ordinance that was approved by Hernando County Commissioners on Friday, in Brooksville.
Another troubling clause in the new animal ordinance involves methods of euthanasia. It allows animal control officers "immediate euthanasia" powers to "destroy" animals "by shooting the animal or injecting it with a barbiturate drug," pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 828.05.
This has the potential to be tragically abused by an agency whose reputation for animal cruelty and inappropriate animal killing has been well documented.
While the stated goal of the new law might have been to improve animal survival rates at the county's high-kill shelter, the details suggest that is it more likely to achieve the opposite.
Pet owners will no longer be allowed to surrender animals to the shelter as they did in the past, and the chances for adoption remain slim, since there is nothing in the ordinance that expands access to impounded animals through extended or weekend adoption hours.
There are some provisions in the law that provide new requirements for shelter from weather, as well as stricter rules for spaying and neutering. However, they will do nothing to save the lives of the unfortunate animals that are taken by Hernando County Animal Services.
Hernando County's disregard for 4th Amendment rights leaves it open to lawsuits when residents refuse to tolerate animal control officers chasing stray animals through their yards.
It should also be noted that Florida's Stand Your Ground Law may also put human lives at risk. Property owners might feel threatened by unannounced and unwelcome animal control officers on their land.
It is unclear how or why Hernando County officials approved this provision, after admitting publically and in emails that it was illegal.
Click here to read the entire Hernando County, Florida animal control ordinance.
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