Sarah Breitag owns three cats and a dog, which means she is in compliance with Aberdeen's pet ordinance.
Breitag would like to own more dogs. But she doesn't think about getting more because “my house is too small and the city says I can’t.”
Breitag, who is the assistant manager of the Aberdeen Area Humane Society, doesn't have a problem with the city ordinance, which allows a maximum of four adult pets per dwelling unit.
Fortunately, her current ratio nicely fits Aberdeen law.
The limits are three adult dogs or four adult cats per residence. That doesn't mean you can have seven pets, though.
You can mix and match, but the total can't exceed four. You can own three dogs and a cat, for instance, or vice versa, or two of each.
The limit also applies to parrots, ferrets or other pets of significant size. “I'm not going to go in there and count how many fish you've got, or if you've got an ant farm or things along those lines,” said animal control officer John Weaver. But a boa constrictor would count against the limit.
A family, he said, could own a boa constrictor, a dog, a cat and a ferret, he said.
Issues with the city’s pet limit arise only two or three times a year, Weaver said.
Generally, people violate the law unintentionally, he said. People get confused, or perhaps don't know the rule because they're new to town, Weaver said. When people are found to have too many pets, Weaver usually works with them to help them find a home for the extra animals, he said.
The “city isn't some big arbitrary monster that wants to dictate all this sort of stuff,” Weaver said. When there’s a misunderstanding about the number of pets allowed, Weaver discusses the law with homeowners and gives them a reasonable amount of time to resolve the problem, he said.
The city doesn't go looking for homes that may house too many animals, city attorney Adam Altman said. Sometimes, a neighbor or relative will call the city reporting that someone owns numerous pets.
Weaver said he responds only when concerns have been expressed by a family member, neighbor or a city worker who discovers the situation.
The subject tends to come up when city employees are at a home for code enforcement reasons, Altman said.
The city might be alerted to health violations or health problems at a residence. Neighbors may complain about a bad smell or a broken window, or maybe the roof is leaking and no one's doing anything about it, Altman said. City employees respond to help those people, Altman said.
While at the home, a code enforcement or health officer might notice an abundance of pets, and can't ignore it, Altman said.
Weaver says if he has valid concerns and is operating on credible information, he could respond the way any other law enforcement officer might. If a homeowner won't let him in, he can get a search warrant.
However, Weaver doesn’t request a search warrant very often.
“I think in the 12 years I've had this job I've only had to get two,” Weaver said.
If the homeowner denies having excess animals and “we don't have probable cause for a search warrant, then we walk away,” Altman said.