HANNIBAL | The problems of animal cruelty and animal neglect in America's Hometown were brought to the attention of the Hannibal City Council during its June 16 meeting at city hall.
“By changing the (city's) ordinances and codes we will be sending a clear message that our community does not accept nor will we allow cruelty against animals,” said April Azotea. “We must be a voice for those that don't have one.”
Among the members of the council supporting Azotea's call for action was Councilman Darrell McCoy.
“Animal cruelty is a problem,” he said. “We just have to figure out the best way to go about fixing it.”
According to Azotea, guidelines regarding animal care and shelter in Hannibal are too vague.
“Nowhere in the code or ordinances does it talk about keeping a dog chained up 24/7,” she said. “Limiting their mobility does so much damage to these animals, not only physically, but emotionally.”
Azotea believes the community, if given the chance, would support taking steps to protect animals.
“I am 99.9% sure they would support not allowing dogs to be chained up 24/7 and giving them so much room on a chain,” Azotea said.
City Attorney James Lemon said he suspects that the author of Hannibal's animal cruelty and animal neglect ordinances was intentionally vague.
“I am not opposed if it is council's pleasure to putting in restrictions,” he said. “My concern is if we are going to narrow it down and itemize it out, we need to be really, really sure we think of everything and itemize everything out.”
“If we are narrowing it down to where we are leaving something out, how is that any different from leaving it too broad where people are finding loopholes?” Azotea asked.
Bob Stout, one of the city's three community resource officers, said the key is teaching pet owners how to properly care for their animals.
“Our job is to educate more than it is to write tickets,” he said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.”
Hannibal Police Chief Lyndell Davis reported thatbetween2010and2019 his department's CRO officers issued 457 citations for animal neglect and twice as many warnings.
“The reality is if you seize every animal that may not be perfectly cared for you will overwhelm a shelter that is already overwhelmed,” he said, adding that in 2019 alone 381 dogs were seized. “I am not saying this ordinance (change) might be helpful or might not, but the issue is I don't think it is the magic wand you believe it to be because there is so much of an issue. I think what you will see is we will write more citations, but I am not sure it will cure the problem.”
Azotea, who will be working with HPD regarding possible changes to the city's animal cruelty and animal neglect ordinances, said trying something and failing is better than not trying at all.
“Any type of change that we can try, even if it doesn't work, at least we tried,” she said. “We are just allowing things to continue the way they have been and dogs continue to suffer.”
Mayor James Hark said any kind of successful solution will involve the public.
“We can try to regulate away issues all day long, but without the public/private partnership it will be in vain. We can't arrest our way out of the situation. It is going to take enforcement and education,” he said.