San Antonio Holds Kennel Court

Posted by Stephanie Ulmer, Guest Blogger on April 12, 2012

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “Every Friday morning, a small courtroom in this Texas city becomes a kennel of jurisprudence.” The city has indeed found a novel way of dealing with the animal-related cases that were on the rise. As the article noted, city officials decided “to crack down on recurring civic problems that weren’t getting requisite attention on regular courts’ dockets, such as dog bites, stray pets, and residents who fail to register and vaccinate their animals.” Animal cases in San Antonio previously were handled by the city’s municipal court judges, but city officials complained that they were not receiving adequate attention nor were the judges meting out proper punishments under that approach.

The interim director of San Antonio’s Animal Care Services department, Joe Angelo, said in the WSJ article that the goal of the court is to change the general atmosphere with regard to animals in the city of 1.3 million, “where more than 3,000 residents annually are bitten by dogs and more than 150,000 stray dogs roam city streets on any given day.” He asserts that by having a specially-dedicated court, it sends the message to the population that irresponsible pet ownership will not be tolerated. But not everyone is happy with the change. In fact, there have been grumblings by some animal guardians that the animal court is being used to pick on them for petty offenses just to generate revenue. The article mentions a few people who were haled into court to answer for charges ranging from a dog bite to failure to register their dogs, with fines ranging from $269 (dog bite) to about $4,000 for the registration offense. Since the court’s inception just over 10 months ago, the city has collected over $250,000 in fines against pet owners.

It is believed that court is part of a larger trend in which cities are forming specialized tribunals to deal with distinct populations, such as drug addicts or the mentally ill. The goal is to allow judges to develop a deeper understanding of certain kinds of offenses, and better fashion appropriate punishments for those who commit them.

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