Among the most difficult and recurring problems faced by municipal officials through the years has been regulation and control of animals. It continues to surface at the public policy-makers level and across neighborhood fences.
Animal noise ordinance provisions require adequate notice and uniform enforcement.
In City of Spokane v. Fischer, 110 Wn.2d 541 (1988), the Washington Supreme Court held a Spokane ordinance void for vagueness, noting that it did not provide adequate notice of unlawful conduct or adequate standards to prevent its arbitrary enforcement. The ordinance in question read:
No owner of a dog or owner or occupant of premises upon which a dog is kept or harbored may allow such a dog to disturb or annoy any other person or neighborhood by frequent or habitual howling, yelping or barking. Whoever harbors such a dog maintains a nuisance.
In contrast, the sample ordinance provisions below provide some degree of specificity around animal noise. Have your legal counsel review any proposed regulation or model ordinance to see if the provision meets the legal standard.
- Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Sec. 6.04.060 — Defines nuisance animals as any that “howls, yelps, whines, barks, or makes other oral noise in such a manner as to unreasonably disturb others.”
- Bremerton Municipal Code Sec. 7.15.10 — Measures nuisance animal noise in terms of frequency, duration, and number of episodes within a seven-day period.
- Clark County Code Sec. 8.11.060 — Measures nuisance animal noise by frequency and duration.
- Fircrest Municipal Code Sec. 7.03.030 — Measures nuisance animal noise by number of persons disturbed.
- Skagit County Code Sec. 7.14.10 — Measures nuisance animal noise by volume, frequency, duration, time, and location.
- Vancouver Municipal Code Sec. 8.24.130 — Measures nuisance animal noise by duration and frequency.
- Waterville Municipal Code Sec. 6.04.020 — Measures nuisance animal noise by frequency, duration, and number of episodes within a seven-day period.
- West Richland Municipal Code Sec. 6.08.030 — Measures nuisance animal noise by time of day and distance.
Many local governments allow citizens to submit complaints of animal noise, such as Pasco’s Animal Noise / Barking Dog Complaint Log.
Most nuisance and animal control ordinances have provisions that require pet owners to properly dispose of animal waste. Failing to do so interferes with the public's use of sidewalks, parks, and other public areas and can create unsanitary conditions on public and private property.
Pet waste that is left on streets, pavement, lawns, and trails can be picked up by stormwater run-off and carried to surrounding watersheds through storm drains, potentially introducing harmful bacteria and parasites into the environment. In addition, when pet waste decomposes in watersheds, it can create detrimental algae blooms that will deplete the water of oxygen and kill fish and other aquatic organisms. For more information, see Pollution Prevention Fact Sheet: Animal Waste Collection from the Environmental Protection Agency.
This problem is most often addressed through adoption of provisions that make the pet owner or other person in charge of an animal responsible for removing wastes deposited by the animal on public or private property, other than the premises of the owner. Some communities make it a violation for a pet owner to fail to have in his or her possession the equipment necessary to remove animal wastes while accompanying the animal on public property, such as the Edmonds Municipal Code Sec. 5.05.070.
The samples below address animal waste removal:
- Algona Municipal Code Sec. 6.20.050 — Requires livestock manure be maintained and removed to prevent odors and the breeding of insects.
- Bothell Municipal Code Sec. 6.16.011 — Requires removal of animal waste, including in “private area, run, pen, shelter or yard,” and in public places.
- Edmonds Municipal Code Sec. 5.05.070 — Declares animal waste outside private property a public nuisance unless steps are taken to immediately remove the waste.
- Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 9.25.082 — Requires removal of animal waste, including in any open area, run, cage or yard wherein animals are kept, or owner cited for offense relating to safety and sanitation.
For some communities, the presence of wild domestic cats, or feral cats, is the source of many nuisance complaints. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) maintains an Outdoor Cats FAQ webpage.
Feral cat management programs known as "trap, neuter, release" or "trap-test-vaccinate-alter-release-and-monitor" programs are presented as a solution to the problem. Such programs aim to reduce the number of feral cats while concurrently reducing the number of animals killed in shelters and animal control facilities.
Below are a few ordinance and programs addressing feral cats:
- Coulee City Ordinance No. 513 (2003) — Prohibits the feeding of feral cats on town property.
- Kitsap Humane Society Community Cats — Addresses the county’s Trap-Neuter-Return program.
- Mount Vernon Municipal Code Sec. 6.10.040 — Describes requirements for cat colonies with the goal of reducing any health or nuisance hazards such an unregulated colony might pose.
Pigeon control can be controversial, though a number of local governments regulate the number of pigeons a person can maintain. From a health view, pigeons can carry infectious diseases, though the incidence is low.
There are state laws relating to Antwerp Messenger pigeons or Racing pigeons:
- RCW 9.61.190 — It is a class 1 civil infraction for any person, other than the owner thereof or his authorized agent, to knowingly shoot, kill, maim, injure, molest, entrap, or detain any Antwerp Messenger or Racing Pigeon, commonly called "carrier or racing pigeons", having the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail or bearing upon its leg a band or ring with the name or initials of the owner or an identification or registration number stamped thereon.
- RCW 9.61.200 — It is a class 2 civil infraction for any person other than the owner thereof or his authorized agent to remove or alter any stamp, leg band, ring, or other mark of identification attached to any Antwerp Messenger or Racing Pigeon.
Since controlling pigeon populations through an eradication program can be controversial, a local government should pursue other non-lethal measures for controlling birds, such as regulating the ability of citizens to feed pigeons (see sample ordinance provision below) or installing pigeon barriers in areas when they tend to congregate. Below are general resources on non-lethal bird control measures:
- HSUS: What to do about pigeons — Covers several non-lethal options.
- Pigeon Control Advisory Service: Alternatives to Lethal Bird Control — Includes innovative non-lethal methods such as dovecote installation, designated public feeding areas, and the use of artificial breeding facilities.
Below are local codes related to the feeding of pigeons:
- Oak Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 7.24 — Prohibits the keeping or maintenance of pigeons within city limits.
- Redmond Municipal Code Ch. 6.18 — Prohibits the feeding of feral pigeons.
Some interaction with wildlife is regulated by the federal and state governments. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) webpage Wildlife Damage Management Technical Series highlights wildlife species or groups of wildlife species that cause damage to agriculture, property, and natural resources, and/or impact human health and safety.
Below are some general resources on managing wildlife:
- National Wildlife Control Operators Association — Provides training and education, resources, and services to the wildlife damage management industry.
- University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point: Internet Center for Wildlife Damage — Provides science-based information on how to manage wildlife damage and resolve human-wildlife conflicts responsibly.
Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (Fish and Wildlife) also maintains several useful pages:
- Living with Wildlife
- Nuisance Wildlife
- Species-specific fact sheets — Offers downloadable information for specific mammals, birds, and reptiles and amphibians.
Against the advice of experts and, often, posted warning signs, some people regularly feed wild animals, while some offer food indirectly, such as when a trash has been loosely secured. Agencies should discourage individuals from feeding wildlife for several reasons, including:
- Human food isn’t good for wild animals, which have naturally specialized diets.
- Wildlife can become too accustomed to people and become dangerous.
- Wild animals will become dependent on handouts.
- Wild animals carry diseases that can infect individuals.
The following resources provide additional detail:
Below are some examples of local governments provisions addressing the subject:
- Bellevue Municipal Code Sec. 3.43.090 — Prohibits leaving food in parks for wildlife.
- Coupeville Ordinance No. 764 (2021) — Prohibits the feeding of wildlife and feral animals within town limits.
- Ocean Shores Municipal Code Sec. 8.32.020 — Notes that the feeding of wild deer, elk, coyotes, etc. is declared to constitute a public nuisance (exceptions for zoos, etc.), while Ord. No. 896 prohibits feeding of certain wild animals.
- South Bend Municipal Code Sec. 6.05.130 — Prohibits feeding of wild animals while 6.05.270(D) prohibits feeding of wild or free-flying fowl.
MRSC maintains information on the regulation of coyotes, dangerous dogs, wolves, and wolf hybrids at our Dangerous Dogs, Wolves, Coyotes, and Dog-Hybrids webpage.
Geese, Ducks, and Other Waterfowl
A number of municipalities have created regulatory provisions regarding the feeding of wild birds. Most ordinance provisions address the feeding of birds and other animals on public (usually park) property in order to control their numbers and reduce property damage and health hazards. Below are a few sample codes:
- Burien Municipal Code Ch. 6.40 — Prohibits the feeding of birds and domestic or wild animals outdoor if it creates an unreasonable disturbance, including the build up of uneaten food.
- Everett Municipal Code Ch. 8.52 — Prohibits the feeding of waterfowl near Silver Lake.
The USDA's Wildlife Services Department offers the Management of Canada Goose Nesting (2009), which describes techniques associated with goose nesting management.
Canada geese are considered a "migratory" species and are federally protected under four bilateral migratory bird treaties. Regulations allowing the take of migratory birds are authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (Act) (16 U.S.C. §§ 703-711), which implements the four treaties. The Act provides that, subject to the treaties, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to determine when, to what extent, and by what means it is compatible with the conventions to allow hunting, killing, and other forms of taking of migratory birds, their nests, and eggs. The Act requires the Secretary to implement a determination by adopting regulations permitting and governing those activities. For more information, see the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s webpage on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
In recent years, numbers of Canada geese have undergone dramatic growth to population levels that are increasingly coming into conflict with people and causing personal and public property damage. The Fish and Wildlife Service believes that resident Canada goose populations must be reduced, more effectively managed, and controlled to reduce goose-related damages. New rules went into effect on September 11, 2006, that authorize state wildlife agencies, private landowners, and airports to conduct (or allow) indirect and/or direct population control management activities, including the take of birds, on resident Canada goose populations. For example, Bellevue, Kirkland, Mountlake Terrace, Port of Seattle/Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Renton, Sea-Tac, Woodinville, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the University of Washington) contract with the Wildlife Services Department of the USDA for waterfowl management, per this Interlocal Agreement for Waterfowl Management Program (2019).
This section provides references and sample regulations on the disposal of dead animals. Provisions relating to animal control services and the disposal of dead animals from animal control facilities or veterinarians have not been included.
- RCW 16.36.102 — Addresses duty to bury carcasses of diseased livestock.
- Ch. 16.68 RCW — Addresses disposal of dead animals.
- WAC 246-203-121 — Addresses disposal of dead animals.
Below are some general guidelines for dead animal disposal:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Animal Disposal Following an Emergency
- USDA: Wildlife Carcass Disposal (2018)
- Washington State Department of Agriculture: Livestock Disposal Manual (2014)
Some local code provisions allow dead animals (of a certain size) to be disposed of within the waste stream or provide directions on how to dispose of a dead animal.
- Benton City Municipal Code Sec. 6.04.040 — Requires removal within 24 hours; provides burial regulations.
- King County, Solid Waste Division: Waste Acceptance Rule (PUT-7-1-6-PR) (2017) — See IV. Policies(B); Animals weighing 15 pounds or less may be disposed of in the waste stream; animals over 15 pounds must be taken to a rendering plant, veterinary clinic, animal shelter, pet cemetery or buried on the owner’s property; carcasses may be accepted at a designated county facility if pre-approved.
- Snohomish County Code Sec. 7.41.050 — Prohibits county owned and operated solid waste disposal system facilities from accepting dead animals.
- West Richland Municipal Code Sec. 8.04.110 — Requires sanitary disposal of dead animals.