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One Big, Final Cause For Boise Councilman: Animal Protection

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When Boise City Councilman TJ Thomson decided not to run for reelection this year, he also knew that he had one big final task ahead: a dramatic repeal and replacement of the city's animal code. He said Boise had to do something to protect animals because the State of Idaho has been lax.

"The State of Idaho is 48 out of 50, in terms of animal cruelty laws," said Thomson. "It's not going to happen at the state level. It has to happen at the local level."

Boise citizens will have an opportunity to weigh in the proposed changes on Tuesday, April 6.

Thomson visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about his proposals, the root of his passion for pets and the very personal reason why he decided not to run for reelection.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Boise. City Councilman TJ Thomson recently announced that he won't be running for reelection later this year. But before he's gone, he wants to see significant change to the City of Boise animal code. Councilman Thomson is here to talk about that and more. Councilman, good morning to you.

TJ THOMSON: Good morning, George. How are you doing?

PRENTICE: I'm very well, sir. Up top, can you give me a specific instance of possible animal cruelty happening here?

THOMSON: Absolutely. You know, one specifically is happening quite regularly. Folks are getting animals from a local pet store that sells them. I won't name the store, but these animals are continuously coming up with instances of Parvo and different complications that they're experiencing. And quite possibly, it could mean that they're connected to a puppy mill. You also have seen instances of puppies coming out of boxes on the side of the road that are being sold, for instance, very recently at the Cabelas area, where… same situation… very sick animals that had no control over the city, had no responsibility within. And these folks were stuck dealing with these major complications with these animals that they love.

PRENTICE: We're also talking about pets that… well quite frankly, are trapped in vehicles during extreme weather.

THOMSON: Oh, yeah. And this has happened quite regularly as well. And people will post these horrible videos of dogs that are literally dying before their eyes. And they can't do a single thing about it because they have to wait for a 911 response, which is quite well in this city. But, you know, they have their priorities, and sometimes they can't get there in time. And the animal experiences serious, serious harm or death.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about animal hoarding. I think one of your proposals involves, well a limit on the number of pets that someone would own?

THOMSON: There is a commercial noncommercial kennel license that we have in place that does require you get a special license if you have more than four dogs. That's not something that I've changed… that was already there and it'll continue. But actual animal hoarding is based on how the animals are being treated. And the instance of cruelty could be strictly based on the lack of water or severe matting or lack of shelter to prevent serious harm from extreme heat or cold. And I'll back up. You know, one of my dogs is a rescue from an animal hoarder…my little pup, Soma, who's seven years old, she was rescued. She's a Finish Lab. And there was a woman that was hoarding. She had over 65 of them in her small home down in California. They were rescued and we were able to get Soma. She is now at only the age of seven… and has diabetes, requires insulin shots twice a day and is blind. And it's because of the situation that she experienced of animal hoarding. So, it shows the true impacts, the effects of something such as animal hoarding and why we need to define it as animal cruelty in our code.

PRENTICE: And again, for the record, you're saying that city code now requires… did you say a noncommercial kennel license? If you have over a certain number?

THOMSON: If someone technically… if someone has more than four dogs and or cats combined, then you're supposed to get a commercial kennel license. I am modifying those rules around that as well…right now you have to go around…it's pretty intrusive. You have to go around to all your neighbors within a certain radius and ask for permission to have this many animals. We're going to change that. I hope I'm going to make it so that it's just a or a mailer to the surrounding area. And they can provide comments or concerns if they have them. I used to have to do this. I had two indoor cats and three dogs, and I had to go around all my neighbors and ask permission to have those two indoor cats. It was pretty intrusive. Anyways, it's not related to animal hoarding, per say, but it's pretty common to have a noncommercial license in your code. And again, it's pretty common around the United States.

PRENTICE: Are you talking about several changes to city code, or would these changes be bundled together?

THOMSON: It's technically a complete rewrite of the code and it's a repeal and replace. And I'm attempting to set the gold standard for our companion animals. It is strictly. around companion animals and exotic animals, and it's going to have dramatic changes, such as no longer will retail pet stores be able to sell dogs or cats. We presently have no retail pet stores in the City of Boise. We have in the in the past frequently been linked to puppy mills. And it will close that loophole. It will also prevent the sale of dogs and cats from boxes in public right away, which is really a partnership with private businesses. Like a company like Cabela's has decided they won't allow this in their parking lot. It's a private parking lot. They can allow it, but they've decided not to. So, if those move out to the sidewalk, we will now no longer allow that. This also touches on exotic animals. I'm not a fan of the circus. It;s cruel punishment and pure animal abuse to these elephants, tigers, lions that are being forced into boxes and sent around the entire United States and told to stand on their head and bull hooks are used to torture them. This will prevent the use of exotic animals as well in any shows such as the circus going forward.

PRENTICE: So, if that circus wants to come to Boise…., actually what I'm hearing you say is…they would not be able to come to Boise if they had these type of acts.

THOMSON: Correct. If they bring exotic animals, they will not be allowed in the city of Boise. They can still bring their camels and horses and dogs. I cannot and will not regulate agricultural type animals. They're protected. But no, if they have exotics, they certainly will not be welcome in the city of Boise going forward. This has actually already happened in Ketchum and Blaine County.

PRENTICE: Where does this come from? What are the roots of this passion for you?

THOMSON: Well, it stems back to childhood. I've always been an animal owner. I consider them my hairy kids. You know, I'm passionate about protecting them. And I've I've seen animal abuse firsthand, like I mentioned with my pup. I’ve seen it in other instances. And people are crying out in this community for change. The State of Idaho is 48 out of 50, in terms of animal cruelty laws. It's not going to happen at the state level. It has to happen at the local level. I'm acting as the voice of these animals in the best way that I can, to ensure their protection and safety going forward.

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TJ Thomson and family

PRENTICE: I know you're an analyst at Idaho Power and a proud husband and dad. Why are you leaving the council?

THOMSON: You know, a year or two ago, my daughter, who's now turning seven this year, I was getting ready to head off to City Hall for another long council meeting. And, you know, she said, “Daddy, please stay.” And it just stuck with me. And she needs me more than I think City Hall needs me at this point. And so, it's time to bid farewell after this year. After it will be twelve years…twelve great years. I feel like I've accomplished everything I've set out to do with the exception of this animal code, so far. And now it's time to spend more time with my daughter. That's what I want.

PRENTICE: Well, I think it has been twelve or thirteen years since we first met, and you were first thinking about running for office; and we've had many conversations along the way. Best of luck to you and your family. Good luck with the rest of your term and most importantly, the rest of your life. T.J. Thompson, thank you so much.

THOMSON: Thank you so much, George. Best to you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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