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Village Approves New Animal Ordinance Despite Cat, Chicken Concerns

After almost six years of examination, the village board voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt a new household pet ordinance.

Wilmette's board of trustees unanimously approved a revised version of its nearly 35-year-old animal ordinance Tuesday evening, despite some pushback from residents with feral cat and concerns.

The new code narrows the definition of household pets from "an animal that lives in the residence" to exclude dangerous, exotic animals and livestock. Officials have been working on revising the rule for roughly six years. It was the first vote to include the newly elected board members, Bob Bielinski and Julie Wolf.

"It’s very important that we not delay this because some of the aspects of it, which I believe are meaningful and real, are clarified, and that being the definition of vicious dogs, which definitely needs to be updated," said Trustee Cameron Krueger, who chaired the judiciary committee during much of the ordinance's re-write process.

Krueger also added that the revised code will reduce the pet care fees residents pay to the village. Meanwhile the rest of the board echoed similar, urgent sentiments to Krueger's.

“I cannot emphasize enough how many folks have contacted us about vicious dogs, to the point where I’ve appointed a go-to officer who’s job is to go and talk to people about vicious dogs," Village President Chris Canning said. "Now he’ll be armed with an ordinance that will clearly spell out what our ordinances are about."

Aside from vicious dogs, the need to control outdoor feeding was another pressing matter, according to Village Manager Timothy Frenzer.

"The biggest challenge we’ve had to face every time we encounter rat colonies is outdoor feeding of animals; invariably that is part of the problem," Frenzer said.

But the board's vote was preceeded by a resident's concerns with the ordinance's wording, . This time, issues were raised by resident Patricia Winter, an attorney and animal shelter volunteer, regarding the prohibition of feral cat colonies.

"Two primary reasons for that concern, it is in conflict with a Cook County ordinance, which not only permits this type of conduct, but authorizes it and authorizes organizations to care and maintain these colonies," Winter said. "The concern I have about this conflict is that it will almost invariably lead to litigation." Winter went on to cite a case in which Cook County has sued the Village of Bridgeview for disobeying the law.

"I encourage the board to reject the ordinance or defer action on this part of the ordinance until additional information can be made available later," she added.

However, Canning assured Winter, that the village can adopt an ordinance that will supersede the county ordinance since Wilmette is a home rule community. Local governments with home rule status are given greater decision making abilities, which shifts responsibility from the state government.

Additionally, several trustees expressed that not enough information was presented to indicate that feral cats are a problem in the village. 

"It's not entirely productive when we get people coming in on the last day coming in to say to reject it." said Trustee Mike Basil, "Just like the chicken issue, nothing prevents you from educating us on a better way to go about this."

"The challenge to you is to go collect the information we’ve asked for and we will consider your request to change the policy," Basil added.

Canning also indicated that residents' concerns would continue to be heard after the initiative was approved. "If the judiciary committee wants to revisit this at an appropriate time, the committee can do that," he said.

One resident is already planning to approach the judiciary committee. Diane Schaffner, , told Patch that she plans on presenting to the committee in the hopes of amending the ordinance in regards to livestock. Schaffner added that she understood the board's urgency in passing the rule, and feels that officials have taken her issue seriously.

"I fully believe that they will give more attention to the chicken issue in the future," she said. "I know that the conversation has been open and they’ll keep talking about it."

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