A big part of getting people to comply with the law depends on how well they can understand what they are expected to do. When I joined DACC, many parts of the Los Angeles County ordinance for animals – called Title 10 – hadn’t been updated for several decades. It was full of arcane legal gobbledygook that would give an aspirin a headache. How could we expect animal owners to follow the law, and officers to enforce it, if it was so difficult to decipher?
For example, the section requiring dog owners to pick up their dogs’ feces read:
“It is unlawful for the owner or person having custody of any dog or other animal to permit, either willfully or through failure to exercise due care or control, any such dog or animal to commit any nuisance and to allow such nuisance to thereafter remain upon any public or private property not owned or possessed by the owner or person in control of said animal, provided that the person who owns, harbors, keeps or has charge or control of a dog (other than a sightless person who has charge or control of a guide dog) shall immediately and securely enclose all feces deposited by such dog in a bag, wrapper or other container and dispose of the same in a sanitary manner. Any person (other than a sightless person with a guide dog) who has charge or control of a dog in a location other than on the property of such person or the property of the owner of the dog, shall have in his or her possession a suitable wrapper, bag or container (other than articles of personal clothing) for the purpose of complying with the requirements of this section. Failure of such person to carry such wrapper, bag or container when in charge or control of a dog in a location other than on property of such person or the property of the owner of the dog or animal shall constitute a violation of this section.”
The code never defined “nuisance” so how is a person supposed to understand this means feces removal? Also, this technically would apply to all animals – I don’t think the intent was ever to require equestrians to carry bags with them and remove pounds of manure. Finally, it required that people carry the bags – were our officers expected to stop and frisk people walking their dogs? And who in the world would use their personal clothing to pick up dog waste?
Over the past 22 years, we have made 14 changes to Title 10 to codify modern animal control expectations and make it more reflective of today’s animal keeping requirements. One significant way we improved Title 10 was applying a plain language standard to the ordinance. I worked with our County Counsel for more than two years to rewrite Title 10 to make the language clear, concise, organized, and appropriate for the intended audience. By using plain language and removing the onerous legal jargon, we reduced the number of words in Title 10 by 30 percent!
For example, the section quoted above now reads:
“A person who owns or has custody of a dog (except a visually impaired person with a guide dog) is required to remove the dog’s feces immediately from public property or private property not owned or possessed by the owner or custodian of the dog. The dog’s feces must be disposed of in a sanitary manner.”
These changes made Title 10 much more understandable for animal owners and easier for our officers to enforce. In fact, DACC and the Office of County Counsel won an award from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission for the application of plain language to Title 10.
But we can do better than that. We have now translated Title 10 into Spanish and Mandarin. Los Angeles County is home to 1.4 million people whose primary language is Spanish, and more than 200,000 residents whose primary language is Chinese, predominantly Mandarin. By translating Title 10 into these languages, we have made Title 10 more accessible to these important communities.
Making animal laws understandable and accessible to pet owners helps maintain an informed community and ensures better care of animals. When we know better, we do better. DACC will continue to update Title 10 as needed and engage with our communities to ensure animals and people are protected.
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The Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 charity that raises money to support DACC in its mission of saving animals and keeping pets and families together. Learn more at www.lacountyanimals.org.