Animal Ownership Causing Some Pet Peeves

This op-ed was published today in the Standard Examiner.

Goats are trending in Utah. Petting zoos are gaining in popularity, and herds of people gather together for “Goga,” a combination of outdoor yoga while goats roam among – and on top of — participants. And now residents are butting heads with city officials over their right to keep goats as pets.

Earlier this year, Jennifer Ford of Cottonwood Heights was visited by a code enforcement officer who informed her that her pygmy goat, affectionately named Pepper Paisley, needed to go. The visit came after a neighbor complained to the city about Pepper’s crying. Ford, upon learning that the bleating was a result of Pepper Paisley being in heat, took the goat in to be fixed. Although this fixed the noise issue, Ford’s efforts to have the city code changed in order to keep her pet ultimately failed. On May 22, Cottonwood Heights City Council refused to adopt a revision to the city ordinance allowing for residents to own pygmy goats that have been properly neutered and vaccinated.

Pepper’s plight is indicative of a larger issue involving animals and property rights. The zoning laws a city passes are important to make sure that animal ownership doesn’t pose health or safety risks to residents, while also protecting the animal’s rights to live in a suitable environment. However, in situations where the size of a property is a non-issue, the only reasonable barrier you should face to keeping pets or livestock on your land is if the animal in some way presents a nuisance or danger to the surrounding neighborhood.

Some cities get this, but many do not.

Farmington’s praiseworthy model for the regulation of animals on private property rests on the condition that “all animals must be kept and maintained in such a manner so as NOT to degrade (below a reasonable standard), the health, safety, noise, odor or sanitation environment of persons dwelling on neighboring lots.” City code establishes classifications for large and small domestic animals, as well as livestock.

While standards of presumption are set for how many animals from each class can be kept on what size lot, the possibility is left open for residents to make an appeal to the city on a case by case basis that the addition of a particular animal doesn’t violate the above stated condition. The city, in response to complaints received, is also able to determine whether or not any number of animals are being kept and maintained properly so as to not become a nuisance.

In reaction to some of these unreasonable ordinances, a bill was introduced this past legislative session by Rep. Marc Roberts. The bill would have extended the less restrictive Farmington model across Utah, but after opposition from other cities it failed to pass.

The concept of nuisance based ordinances vs. arbitrary regulation extends beyond animal ownership as well. By focusing on nuisance and safety, those with their own private property can be afforded the chance to enjoy beekeeping, so long as proper guidelines regarding placement and fencing are followed. It even offers solutions to the potential problems posed by short-term rentals in residential areas, maintaining that cars are confined to driveways and the street space immediately in front of the residence so as to not impose on the neighbors. This is particularly noteworthy, since it would enable homeowners to turn extra space into extra income.

As local ordinances evolve and the economy changes, it’s important for Utahns to continue to advocate for their private property rights. Whether it’s adopting a new family pet, producing honey or eggs in your own backyard, or running an Airbnb from your home, nuisance-based ordinances go a long way in maintaining a peaceful neighborhood while also protecting everyone’s rights.

Moral to the story? Don’t let restrictive local laws get your goat.

Andrew Richards is a research intern for Libertas Institute, a free market think tank in Lehi.