The City of Chandler is about to toughen its animal abuse ordinances and address hoarding for the first time in decades.
The move comes nearly two months after the arrest of a Chandler woman for allegedly hoarding and abusing 55 mostly special-needs dogs.
But Chandler officials said no single case led to the City Council giving unanimous preliminary approval to changes to its city code to address the issue at its Nov. 9 meeting.
Staffers have been reviewing the ordinances and started working to bring this before Council since May 2022.
“We started talking with the police department and [the courts], about how to improve our code to provide more clarity as to what constitutes animal abuse, what constitutes illegal hoarding of animals, what constitute what process we should use if animals are going to be taken from their owners,” said City Attorney Kelly Schwab.
Council is scheduled to take the final vote on the measures at its Dec. 4 meeting. If it approves it a second time, the changes will take effect 30 days after that.
There are four changes to Chapter 14 of The City Code. The first more clearly defines “animal cruelty” to include specific situations.
For example, those situations include: failing to provide medical attention necessary to prevent unreasonable suffering; intentionally leaving an animal unattended in a motor vehicle; or allowing any dog to interfere, kill or cause physical injury to a service animal.
The second change adds a section on hoarding animals. Unlike a couple of Arizona cities, Chandler did not define hoarding with a specific number. Instead, it had been more of “we’ll know it when we see it.”
The factors police will use to decide when a homeowner has too many animals are: Have they been abandoned? Are the animals living in unsanitary, overcrowded, or other inhumane conditions? Is there a failure to provide medical care? Is there enough food and water?
The third change adds language on the unlawful restraint of a dog.
Police will look for collars that are not properly fitted; an outdoor leash that is less than 10 feet; anything that places the dog in unsafe or unsanitary conditions; anything that causes injury to the dog; does the dog have access to food, water, shade, and shelter.
The final change gives police the authority to take animals away from owners if they have reasonable grounds to believe that very prompt action is required to protect the animal’s health or safety.
“We’ve worked closely with police, prosecution, and the courts, who are the three departments that will be mostly involved in these types of situations,” Schwab said. “And all three of us are very comfortable that this provides us a great set of tools to use in these types of cases.”
About a dozen animal rights activists attended the meeting.
One of them was Koco Garcia, the woman who started a social media campaign to bring attention to a Chandler shelter whose owner was accused of abusing and hoarding dogs in September.
Garcia runs Handover Rover, an animal rescue in Phoenix.
“It went really well,” Garcia said. “I think the most important part was them allowing the public to have a say in it, because as much as they got the wording down, and they all collectively agreed that it needed to happen, … our team and the public had some more specific insights.”
Garcia made tearful social media posts on Sept. 20 about the Chandler woman, who is known by many names. She is being called Sydney McKinley by the courts. She’s also been called April Addison and April McLaughlin.
McKinley ran the Special Needs Animal Welfare League shelter out of her two-bedroom, one bath home on the 1700 block of East Kesler Lane.
On Sept. 22 police arrested her and rescued 55 dogs allegedly living in unsanitary conditions. They also found the bodies of five puppies inside the freezer.
An official with the Arizona Humane Society said it is the worst case of animal abuse she has experienced in this state.
The city contracts with the Humane Society to treat and house any animals it seizes in these kinds of cases. It can also call on the Maricopa County Animal Care & Control for assistance as needed.
Council members praised staff for acting quickly.
“It’s unfathomable to me that somebody can be cruel to animals,” Councilman Mark Stewart said. “I’m grateful that you put this together so quickly in a subcommittee, working hand-in-hand with the animal rights groups, … as well as our police department.”
That sentiment was echoed by others.
Councilman Angel Encinas pushed to ensure that the changes would cover medical devices. For example, that a dog without use of its back legs had a wheelchair.
The city attorney told him staff is confident the language on proper medical attention covered that.
Schwab reminded the council that the police are still limited in what they can do by the U.S. Constitution and state law.
They cannot enter anyone’s home without either their permission, a search warrant, or at least reason to believe that a life is at risk if they don’t act immediately.
Police say they don’t get a lot of animal cruelty or abuse cases. They said most of the calls they receive are to deal with pets being left inside a car under the hot Arizona sun.
“There’s always more, always less that can be done,” Mayor Kevin Hartke said. “This … will give us some more tools in the toolbox to be able to address hoarding and cruelty from the city’s perspective to the best that we can at this point.”