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CITATIONS IN EXCESS OF $1,000 TO INDIO RESIDENTS FOR FAILING TO
COMPLY WITH LAWS ABOUT WHICH THE RESIDENTS HAD NO NOTICE
Draconian measures implemented by Riverside County Animal Services have resulted in
increased killing of pets whose owners love them, but have been issued citations with
outrageous fines they cannot afford to pay. The owners are instructed to relinquish their
animals to the County if they cannot pay the fines.
Marla Tauscher (626) 345-5777 Cell: (760) 534-3143 email@example.com
INDIO, California -- Indio pet owners and other concerned Coachella Valley residents
will gather in the Special Events Center at Fantasy Springs Casino on Thursday, May 29,
from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. for a community meeting to discuss the targeting of low income
residents of the City of Indio by Riverside County Department of Animal Services.
Without warning, animal owners in Indio are being cited for “violations” of laws that
they did not know exist.
When the City of Indio closed its animal facility last summer, city officials contracted
with Riverside County Department of Animal Services to provide services to Indio
residents. Since then, Riverside County animal control officers have been canvassing
neighborhoods, particularly those in lower income areas, issuing citations for violating
the County ordinances that require proof of vaccination for rabies, current licenses,
microchips, and surgical sterilization (spay/neuter). When the City of Indio had its own
animal control division, it was charged with enforcing its laws related to animals, not
those of Riverside County.
The fines add up quickly at $100 for each “violation” per animal. The charges are $400
per animal. In cases where a family has more than one dog, the fines are astronomical,
well over $1,000. The citations give people 20 days to correct the violations, without
giving any information whatsoever about how to go about making the corrections.
According to its website, Riverside County Department of Animal Services is committed
to educating the public about solutions to pet overpopulation. Forcing animal owners to
relinquish their animals does not seem like the most effective way to educate people.
The last thing that Riverside County Department of Animal Services needs is more
animals in its facilities, so why have they chosen a course of action that results in more
animals impounded and killed? Is this tactic really in the best interests of animals or is it
more likely bullying and intimidation by government officials? Singling out specific
segments of the population for enforcement of laws is nothing short of discrimination and
it is worth noting that Animal Services appears to be focused on those people least able or
willing to defend themselves.
If the purpose of the county ordinances is truly to promote responsible pet ownership and
animal welfare, Riverside County Department of Animal Services would be providing
information to help people to locate resources for low cost spaying and neutering of
animals, and for getting them microchipped, licensed and vaccinated. Animal Services
could just as easily issue notices to comply to animal owners, accompanied by
information about how to comply with county ordinances. At least that way, people
would be notified of the existence of the legal requirements and they would have the
information they need to avail themselves of the services they need to comply with the
laws. Those services, especially spaying and neutering can be very costly. There are a
handful of low cost alternatives, but because of high demand, the wait times may well
exceed the 20 days that the County gives to comply after a citation is issued. Animals
and their owners are in a no-win situation. It is a no-win for the County and taxpayers as
well given the increased expense of unnecessary impound of animals who are taken from
Instead of educating the public, Riverside County Department of Animal Services is
threatening and intimidating animal owners by forcing them to choose between paying
huge fines and keeping their animals. That is not a fair choice and it is not one anyone
should have to make. In fact, under the circumstances, where a person is threatened and
coerced into giving up his pet, there is an element of extortion which is not only
unethical, but unlawful. It is all the more reprehensible when it is being done by an
agency that is paid by taxpayers to protect animals and that claims to provide services to
the animal owning public.
In fact, this new system of “enforcement” runs afoul of rights guaranteed under the
Constitution of the United States. Government officials cannot deprive people of
property, including money and/or pets, without due process of the law. In this case, due
process requires that animal owners have notice of the laws that they are allegedly
violating. The County cannot simply demand compliance, particularly where the
penalties involve substantial fines and forfeiture of animals, without at least giving
people information about what the laws are and how to avoid the consequences of non-
According to a staff member at the Riverside County Coachella Valley Animal Campus,
if an animal owner cannot pay the fines, he or she can pay the County $50 per animal to
possibly find a home for the pet or $25 per animal for the County to take in the pet and
kill him or her. A County official told a local resident that people will have to pay the
fines even if they relinquish their animals.
This is an unintended consequence of mandatory spay/neuter legislation when it is poorly
implemented, by imposing requirements without education and resources for compliance.
The goal of spay/neuter ordinances is not bad in and of itself, but this is definitely not the
way to enforce such an ordinance, or any other for that matter.
Marla Tauscher is a Los Angeles based attorney practicing animal law throughout
California, particularly as it relates to animal control agencies and animal shelter issues.