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Attorney General's Opinion No. 94-2001

Topics:

Animals.
Counties.
Dogs.

Summary conclusion

A third class county has the authority to hire an animal control officer under the provisions of Section 322.090, RSMo 2000. The county has the authority to recover reasonable costs for the care and maintenance of animals impounded under the provisions of Section 578.016, RSMo 2000.

Contents of opinion

August 17, 2001

Honorable G. John Richards
Prosecuting Attorney of Lincoln County
P.O. Box 319
Troy, MO 63379

Dear Mr. Richards:

  You have posed the following questions to this office for a response:

Does a third class county have the authority to hire an animal control officer and can the county require by ordinance the collection of costs associated with the retention and care of animals taken into custody under the provisions of Sections 578.005 to 578.016?

 Your inquiry has two distinct parts. First, you ask whether a third class county can hire an animal control officer. Second, you ask whether a county can enact an ordinance that will require the owners of animals taken into custody pay for the costs associated with the retention and care of those animals.

 We have found no provisions of state law specifically authorizing a political subdivision, including third class counties, to hire an animal control officer. However, there is a provision that supports a county's authority to hire an animal control officer. Section 322.090, RSMo 2000, provides:

For the purpose of promoting the public health and safety and to prevent the transmission of rabies and to control rabies and to carry into effect the purposes and provisions of sections 322.090 to 322.130, the county commission is hereby empowered to adopt by order, rules and regulations which shall include provisions for licensing, catching, impounding, confinement, redemption and isolation and destruction of dogs; impounding, isolation and destruction of other domestic animals exposed to or infected with rabies; reporting of animals affected with, or suspected of having rabies, or suspected of having been exposed to rabies, or known or suspected of having bitten or attacked a person; confinement, impounding and destruction of dogs displaying vicious propensities; declaration of a quarantine and terms of the quarantine for any portion of such county affected by a rabies epidemic, pursuant to the recommendation of the county health commissioner; the establishment of a schedule of fees and the method for the collection thereof from the licensing, redemption, isolation or confinement and destruction of dogs and other special services for the control of rabies. The county commission shall establish, maintain and operate a county dog pound and shall provide the necessary personnel and facilities to operate the same and shall provide appropriate motor conveyances for the capture of stray or rabid dogs and provide all the facilities necessary to carry into effect the regulations adopted under the provisions of sections 322.090 to 322.130 and shall be authorized to expend county funds for the purposes aforesaid; and shall have authority to contract with any city, town or village within any such county for any of the services, facilities or functions created and established under sections 322.090 to 322.130.

 Within this provision, the county is empowered to "provide the necessary personnel and facilities to operate" a county dog pound and to "provide appropriate motor conveyances for the capture of stray or rabid dogs." Although the term "animal control officer" is not contained in that provision, it is clear that the county is authorized to hire such an individual to enforce the provisions controlling rabies.

 Statutory construction is utilized to ascertain the legislature's intent. Columbia Athletic Club v. Director of Revenue, 961 S.W.2d 806 (Mo. banc 1998). It cannot be doubted that the legislature intended that counties have the authority to hire appropriate personnel to enforce the ordinances authorized by Section 322.090, RSMo 2000. Such personnel logically could include an individual designated as an "animal control officer."

 Regarding your second question, Section 578.016, RSMo 2000, provides in part:

1. Any duly authorized public health official, law enforcement official, or animal control officer may impound any animal found outside of the owned or rented property of the owner or custodian of such animal when such animal shows evidence of neglect or abuse. . . .

2. The owner or custodian of an animal impounded pursuant to this section shall be liable for reasonable costs for the care and maintenance of the animal. Any person incurring reasonable costs for the care and maintenance of such animal shall have a lien against such animal until the reasonable costs have been paid and may put up for adoption or humanely kill any animal if such costs are not paid within ten days after demand. Any moneys received for an animal adopted pursuant to this subsection in excess of costs shall be paid to the owner of such animal. . . . .

 The provisions of Section 578.016.2, RSMo 2000, are clear and unambiguous. The statute states that an owner or custodian of an animal impounded "shall be liable for reasonable costs for the care and maintenance of the animal." When a statute is clear and unambiguous, there is no need to apply rules of statutory construction. Haley v. Retsinas, 138 F.3d 1245 (8th Cir. 1998).

 Section 578.016.1, RSMo 2000, permits any duly authorized public health official, law enforcement official, or animal control officer to impound any animal found outside of the property of the owner or custodian if the animal shows evidence of abuse or neglect. Section 578.018, RSMo 2000, permits a duly authorized public health official or law enforcement official to seek a warrant to enter onto private property to inspect, care for, or impound neglected or abused animals. Please note that such authority in Section 578.018, RSMo 2000, does not extend to animal control officers, although such officials are specifically named in Section 578.016, RSMo 2000.

CONCLUSION

 A third class county has the authority to hire an animal control officer under the provisions of Section 322.090, RSMo 2000. The county has the authority to recover reasonable costs for the care and maintenance of animals impounded under the provisions of Section 578.016, RSMo 2000.

Very truly yours,
Jay Nixon's signature
JEREMIAH W. (JAY) NIXON
Attorney General

 
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