County officials expected to toughen animal cruelty ordinance


It has been 13 years since animal ordinances in Hamilton County have been revised, and county commissioners are asking for feedback regarding their plans to update the laws, particularly those related to animal cruelty. 

The commissioners, which include Christine Altman, Steve Dillinger and Mark Heirbrandt, will present information gathered in collaboration with the Humane Society for Hamilton County at its Sept. 9 meeting. 

“Last winter, we had some residents concerned about the safety and well-being of animals during a bitter cold snap,” Heirbrandt said. “That discussion provided a great opportunity to reevaluate our animal ordinance, introduce new guidelines and more clearly define some ambiguous language.” 

The proposal includes new temperature guidelines to protect animals from extreme weather conditions. It also more clearly defines what is considered adequate food, water, shelter, space, ventilation and veterinary care as it pertains to domesticated pets. New definitions and penalties have also been added for backyard breeders and puppy mills. The proposed changes also further define and strengthen the penalties for animal abuse and neglect.

“We believe this is a precedent-setting ordinance,” said Rebecca Stevens, president and CEO of the Humane Society for Hamilton County. “We’ve studied local ordinances across the United States and surveyed law enforcement in other counties to gauge the effectiveness and enforceability of their current ordinances. We’ve done our due diligence to develop an ordinance we feel could serve as a best practice for other communities.”

The proposal does not have an impact on livestock animals, which is governed by the Indiana State Board of Animal Health. The ordinance will be enforceable in unincorporated areas of the county, and officials said they hope other cities will follow suit and adopt a similar ordinance. 

“Currently all other municipalities utilize their own local animal ordinances and personnel for enforcement that take precedent over Hamilton County’s ordinances,” Hamilton County Animal Control Deputy Doug Sanford said. “It is our hope Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield will consider adopting the same language to make for easier and more consistent enforcement.”   

Commissioners will vote on the proposed changes at the Sept. 9 meeting, which will begin at 1 p.m. in the commissioners’ courtroom at the Hamilton County Government and Judicial Center.

If approved, the updated ordinance will go into effect Nov. 15, 2019.

The proposed ordinance, along with an FAQ section, can be found on the County’s website at