The animal leash law is no more in unincorporated areas of Ellis County.

The Ellis County Commissioners Court undid a measure adopted in January 1996 on Monday, amending the animal control ordinance to reflect the changes.

Discussion by commissioners indicated they felt the $300,000 cost for animal control is too much out of the county’s $33,412,970 general budget. As well, the commissioners said they felt people are simply dumping their dogs on the county.

Prior to the commissioners’ unanimous vote to approve the changes, two residents questioned the proposal, saying they feel animal control is needed.

“Dogs running at large are no longer just considered a nuisance per se (to be picked up),” assistant district attorney Lee Auvenshine said in a telephone interview this morning, saying owners can still be cited if their dogs roam off their property and a neighbor complains.

Owners also can be cited for abandoning their dogs; however, the sheriff’s office will only pick up dogs believed to be vicious or rabid. Other dogs will not be picked up anymore as a result of the changes to the ordinance.

People who have problems with dogs can contact the sheriff’s office to issue citations; residents also have the option to go to justice of the peace court with their complaints.

“The sheriff’s office isn’t going to pick up the dog unless it is vicious or rabid,” Auvenshine said, saying commissioners believed people were abusing the system by calling animal control to pick up unwanted litters of puppies.

Auvenshine said that under the old ordinance’s all-inclusive language of “abandoned, unwanted, stray” - the sheriff’s office was obligated to pick up all animals.

The commissioners decided to take out the “running at large” portion of the ordinance to “stop that abuse,” Auvenshine said.

“Owners will still be cited for their failures,” he said.

Under the amended ordinance, animals can still be declared a nuisance and animal cruelty is prohibited. The ordinance allows a continuation of the county’s relationship with an animal shelter, with commissioners approving a contract with the Ellis County SPCA on a second try during Monday’s meeting. A first attempt to approve the contract failed due to the lack of a second to the motion.

SPCA executive director Dana White had asked for a 3.7 percent increase in the charge per animal, with commissioners approving an increase from $38.07 to $39.48 for the coming fiscal year.

The SPCA last received an increase for the 2006 fiscal year. White said the SPCA is estimating 75 less animals will be picked up as a result of the ordinance change and based the new contract on 1,925 animals as opposed to last year’s base contract for 2,000 animals. The commissioners agreed to pay any overages on a quarterly basis as opposed to waiting until the end of the year after White explained the financial strain that puts the nonprofit agency under.

This morning, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said that agency was as of yet unaware of the changes to the ordinance and was not able to comment.

Animal complaint calls are a major source of calls for the sheriff’s office.

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com