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FOREST CITY | The City Council has approved the first reading of an animal ordinance that creates a licensing system for dogs and cats. 

If the ordinance passes its next two readings and is adopted, it will go into effect on July 1.

City officials, particularly those on the safety committee, have been working on the proposed ordinance for months.

It has gone through several revisions as members of the public wanted some parts of it changed, including the licensing fee structure. 

The first reading was approved during the Jan. 21 council meeting.

"I'm sure it isn't perfect, but we have to go with something," said Councilman Win Pehrson. 

Councilman Tony Mikes thanked the members of the safety committee for all the time they spent "fine-tuning this to make it fair for the majority." 

If the ordinance is adopted, Forest City residents who own a dog or cat over six months old would be required to get a license from the city clerk within 60 days of acquiring the pet. 

Residents would have the choice of paying a lifetime fee or an annual fee for a pet license. 

The lifetime fee of $60 would be reduced by $25 if the animal is spayed or neutered and/or $25 if the pet is micro-chipped. 

The proposed annual fee is $10 for a spayed or neutered animal and $20 for an unaltered animal. 

Proof of rabies vaccination must be provided at the time of registration. 

Those who register their pets would receive a metal tag stamped with the pet's license number. 

The proposed ordinance also states if a dog or cat that is running loose is picked up, the city will hold it for up to 72 hours before transporting it to a shelter as space permits. 

City Administrator Barb Smith said if the pet and its owner are reunited, the owner would pay the city $75 per day for care of the animal. 

If a pet is not returned to its owner before it is sent to a shelter, the owner would also have to pay whatever that shelter charges for the animal's care. 

Those fees would be in addition to any fine the owner would have to pay if the police choose to write an animal at large citation. 

The city's current ban on pit bulls would remain in place, with the exception of those trained as service dogs.

Smith said this exception would not extend to pit bulls serving as emotional support animals. 

If DNA testing is necessary to prove the breed and the dog turns out not to be a pit bull, the city would pay for the testing. 

If the test indicates the dog is a pit bull, the owner would be responsible for the cost. 

The proposed ordinance also states each household/property can only have up to six licensed animals. Exceptions are to be allowed if the city council approves them. 

Several Forest City residents at the Jan. 21 council meeting had questions about the ordinance, including language on destroying animals. 

Smith said that language is already in the city code and only applies to vicious animals.  

"We are not destroying a stray," she said. 

The ordinance states a vicious animal at large may be destroyed at the discretion of the mayor or a police officer if it cannot be captured, and the city is under no duty to attempt capture. 

Councilman Karl Wooldridge said revenue from the pet licensing fees would be spent on a kennel and food for impounded animals, plus a microchip reader to help reunite stray pets with their owners. 

He said the licensing fees are not "a fundraising scheme" as some residents have said, but to ensure those who don't own pets will not have to pay for the impoundment of strays. 

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