City Council approves animal ordinance

MARFA – After months of gathering public input, Marfa City Council approved an updated animal ordinance that includes the enforcement of the leash law, the control of feral cat colonies and the end of tethering dogs inside the city limits.

The ordinance doesn’t allow owners to tether their dog to a stationary object, nor leave a dog outside and unattended by a restraint between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and/or during harsh weather conditions. Dogs can be tethered for a “reasonable period” while the owner completes a temporary task.

Before the vote, Marfa City Attorney Teresa Todd said that implementing the tethering rule once it’s approved wouldn’t be in the best interest of the citizens or the animals. Todd told the council that it will be a “big sea change” and supported Mayor Manuel Baeza’s suggestion to add a 90-day grace period to allow owners to make appropriate changes such as building a fence.

“What we don’t want is people just letting dogs off of tethers. We don’t want an increase in dog bite incidents or in doggy tax,” said Todd, referring to fees and fines associated with the ordinance.

However, the animal ordinance reenforces that pets must be on a leash when out in public inside the city limits, and the owner must pick up their pet’s waste. Todd informed the council that some residents approached both Animal Control Officer (ACO) George Gonzales and Code Enforcement Officer Christina Pryor about using electronic leashes, or an “invisible leash,” instead of a physical leash, but after some research, they learned that electronic leashes are only used for training purposes and not considered equivalent to an actual leash.

To control the feral cat population, it is against the law to feed or provide water to any feral cat or feral cat colony within the city limits without permission from Gonzales.

Kathy Compton, Secretary/Treasurer for Responsible Ownership of Marfa Pets (ROMP), a non-profit that provides free spay/neuter services to Big Bend residents, provided Todd a copy of the Feral Cat Trap/Neuter/Release Program that was implemented by the city in 2011. She wrote in an email that rather than conduct a mass trapping, removal and euthanasia, ROMP started the current program that works with local cat caretakers who care and manage feral cat colonies on private property with safe trapping and handling techniques.

All the cats are taken to the vet to be assessed and treated for eye infections and other minor health issues as well as receive rabies vaccinations before they return to the colony. If they have an untreatable health condition, they are euthanized. She said cats that go through this program are generally healthier than those in a public place. However, it can take ten years to evaluate the program’s success.

Compton said at the meeting that the colonies range in size. There are currently 16 colonies with the average colony size around eight. One colony has more than 20 cats.

“Off the top of my head, 25 percent of the current existing managed colonies have been completely fixed and stabilized, so there’s no growth in these colonies,” Compton said at the meeting.

Both Todd and Gonzales recommended that the feral cat program with ROMP remains the same.

Some of the new fees includes a $200 annual kennel fee for breeders who sell puppies inside the city limits, $10 kennel fee for people who give away puppies or kittens (but could be waived by the ACO under exceptional circumstances), and adoption fees for animals from the Marfa Animal Shelter were reduced from $100 to $25.

A copy of the city ordinance can be viewed online at

City Council also discussed at the August 13 meeting an ordinance that allows residents to grow native vegetation on private property. At the prior meeting, the council approved two permits, but questions arose during the discussions.

“The two that we had at the last meeting, those are the first two we’ve had come before City Council in many years, so City Council, I think, is embarking upon setting those parameters,” said Todd.

If a property owner wants to grow native grass above 12 inches on their property, they will have to seek City Council approval for a permit. Todd said that people want to have natural landscapes on their yards, and that City Council always felt that was different than tall weeds.

Marfa landscape architect Jim Martinez provided a list of native grasses and invasive grasses and weeds as a guidelines for Pryor when she is patrolling in the city, but he also mentioned that the list is not complete or comprehensive. Todd reminded City Council that the ordinance mentions native and ornamental grasses which would encompass more plants.

“I know that we’re doing so many ordinances and we’re looking at so many things, but that one has got to come up for a revisit as well. It’s all the way back to ‘95,” said Todd.

City Council is currently working on planning & zoning and short-term rental ordinances. While the council voted to adopt the native grass list that was provided by Martinez, it was also suggested they revisit the native plants ordinance in the spring.