Thursday, February 25, 2010

What About the Rabbits?

In their infinite "wisdom" to protect the citizens of Houston, city council has enacted thousands of ordinances over the years. I suspect that current council members are unaware of some of these ordinances, or the fact that many actually contradict other ordinances.

For example, despite numerous ordinances designed to prohibit discrimination, the city engages in blatant discrimination against rabbits and guinea pigs:
Sec. 6-32. Location restrictions for rabbits and guinea pigs.
It shall be unlawful, except as provided in section 6-33, for any person to keep, possess or maintain in the city any rabbits or guinea pigs, or any pens, enclosures, hutches, cages or other structures in which any such rabbits or guinea pigs are kept, possessed or maintained, within 100 feet of any actual residence or habitation of human beings, or within 100 feet of any church, school or hospital, other than the residence of the keeper, possessor, or owner of such rabbits or guinea pigs, such distance of 100 feet to be measured in a straight line from the nearest point of any pen, enclosure, hutch, cage or other such structure in which such rabbits or guinea pigs are kept to the nearest point of such actual residence or place of human habitation, or church, school or hospital.
I am curious what constitutes an "actual residence or habitation". I can only surmise that rabbits can be kept close to imaginary residences, which I am sure comes as a great relief to the Platonists in the city.

Regardless, I find it disturbing that the city would be so discriminatory against rabbits and guinea pigs. How are they to attend church and cleanse their souls? What if they get a boo-boo and need to get medical care? And how are they to become productive members of society if they can't attend school? But more importantly, these animals need a place to live and the city prohibits other forms of housing discrimination:
Sec. 17-12. Discriminatory housing practices.
(a) A person commits an offense if he, because of race, color, sex, religion, familial status, disability or national origin:
(1) Refuses to negotiate with a person for the sale or rental of a housing accommodation or otherwise denies or makes unavailable a housing accommodation to a person;
(2) Refuses to sell or rent, or otherwise makes unavailable, a housing accommodation to another person after the other person makes an offer to buy or rent the accommodation; or
(3) Discriminates against a person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of, or in providing a service or facility in connection with, the sale or rental of a housing accommodation.
While it is almost illegal to refuse to sell someone a house merely because they can't pay for it, it is fine to discriminate on the basis of species. This shouldn't be surprising, given the fact that rabbits--and Barney Frank--don't have much political power in the city.

What is confusing about this is that I found nothing in the code that prohibits rabbits from driving a taxi cab. I would think that the powerful taxi cab lobby would have secured some such prohibition on these potential competitors. Further, it would appear that rabbits are exempt from an ordinance that prohibits cab drivers of the human persuasion from transporting persons who have immoral intents:
Sec. 28-16. Transporting persons for unlawful or immoral purposes.
It shall be unlawful for any person to transport, offer to transport, or aid, or assist in transport; directly or indirectly, any person in, upon, over or through the streets of the city, by means of an automobile or other vehicle, for purposes of lewdness, assignation or prostitution, or for any other unlawful or immoral purpose.
Since the ordinance specifies "person" and not "rabbit", I can only conclude that rabbits are excluded. This would seem to be good news for rabbits. I certainly don't want to imply that rabbits are any more prone to immorality than other species, but there may be some employment opportunities here.

Unfortunately, rabbits are unlikely to find work in dance halls. Because they are cute and fuzzy, patrons might be inclined to pet any bunny rabbits working there, subjecting the long-eared varmints to potential fines:
Sec. 5-55. Employees not to mingle with patrons.
Waiters, waitresses or entertainers shall not be permitted to eat, drink, dance or mingle with patrons in any dance hall.

I will profess ignorance as to what would constitute "mingling". Nor am I certain what great evil this prohibition is intended to prevent. Perhaps there is grave danger in sharing some carrot juice with a rabbit. Regardless, I certainly sleep much better at night knowing that while I lay in my bed, employees of dance halls are not dancing with rabbits. (I wonder if having sex with patrons is considered "mingling".)

As you can see, the Code of Ordinances for Houston is rather confusing. In one ordinance rabbits are singled out for discrimination, but they are not prohibited from driving cabs. Personally, I would much rather have a rabbit for a neighbor than ride in a cab driven by one. But I guess that is why I don't have a seat on city council--I'm not wise enough to recognize the danger posed by having a rabbit hutch in my back yard. Fortunately, I have the good folks at City Hall to make that decision for me.


Mr. Moderate said...

Typically, ordinances like the rabbit/guinea pig limitations, are passed in response to some perceived problem that the courts can't or won't resolve. I suspect that if you were able to dig deep into the history behind the ordinance, there would be several people keeping large numbers of rabbits and guinea pigs in a situation that annoyed or harmed the neighbors. They complained, and soon there's an ordinance prohibiting the practice. Since no one has complained about rabbits driving taxis, there's no ordinance prohibiting that practice, although I assume that state law governing drivers license issuance doesn't allow non-humans to drive on public roads.

Brian Phillips said...

I wouldn't be surprised if you are right--that is how a lot of laws come to be. It illustrates one of the problems with regulations.

A few people (or maybe even one person) decide to have a rabbit farm in their back yard, and a law is then passed that prohibits everyone from owning a rabbit. If the farm truly was a problem, then nuisance laws can easily handle the situation.

As it is, a responsible person who simply wants to keep a rabbit for his kids cannot do so.