Power of the people

Published 11:11 am Monday, December 4, 2017

GATESVILLE – Never underestimate the power of the people.

After listening to the passionate pleas of five individuals here Nov. 20, it appears the Gates County Board of Commissioners are poised to compromise on their plans to make changes to the county’s Animal Control Ordinance.

Among those proposed changes is the definition of proper shelter, which reads: Constant access to sufficient shelter, three (3) walls, a roof and a floor that sits above the ground and protects from the weather, i.e. rain, wind, snow, hail, sleet, and/or sun. Barns and farm shelters are excluded from being required to have a floor that sits above the ground.

That one part of proposed changes sparked the majority of the dialogue at the Nov. 20 meeting. There, Carol Whitt, Gary Ingram, Kimberly Owens, Denise Miller and Stephen Long each encouraged the commissioners to take another look at the definition of proper shelter, as well banning tethering, before reaching a final decision.

In her remarks, Whitt referenced the same concerns shared by county citizens and animal rights activists in the aftermath of a highly publicized death of a dog in early July. Allegedly that dog overheated in the un-shaded backyard of its home on Roundtree Lane while chained to a plastic doghouse. That death sparked outrage nationally on social media sites.

“Three walls, a roof and a floor, according to our ordinance, but that dog still suffered and died,” Whitt remarked. “That dog was just one of many, you just haven’t heard about the others. What these dogs need are proper shelter, water, and responsible owners. Our ordinance does not need any loopholes.”

“There are already state and federal (animal control) ordinances that can supplement for our ordinance, they just need to be enforced,” noted Ingram, who also used the occasion to announce his bid for Gates County Sheriff in the 2018 election. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse; humanity and common decency is instilled upon us by God and humane treatment of domestic and farm animals should be obvious.”

Owens said the “buck needs to stop with you (the commissioners).”

“None of you would put your pets in this type of living environment,” she said. “Would you put a chain around your dog’s neck? We shouldn’t have to beg you all for something that to me is just common sense.”

“There are people here, and not present, that are hoping you will do something to protect our animals,” said Miller.

Long said he owns five deer dogs that are kept in a clean environment and he treats them well.

At the close of the public hearing, the commissioners could have approved their proposed changes to the Animal Control Ordinance. However, after over 45 minutes of debate, to include asking audience members for their input, they opted to table the issue for additional study.

The sticking point of that debate was the definition of proper housing. On more than one occasion the commissioners seemed to be in agreement that the definition needs to be carefully written in order to give the sheriff’s office, especially the animal control officer, a wide range of discretion in enforcement.

To prove a point in how critical the wording is, Commissioner Billy Felton pointed to the comments made by Stephen Long.

“I know he treats his dogs well, but because he said he uses plastic barrels as doghouses, by definition that’s improper shelter because it does not have three walls,” Felton said. “We need to revisit this (proposed changes) so what he (Long) has is legal.”

Another concern was to ensure to have the opening (door) to a doghouse protected above by a overhang. That will prevent direct sunlight as well as the weather elements from entering.

There was also conversation about prohibiting the use of animal carriers (wired cages or crates made from wood or plastic) as proper shelter in an outside, residential environment.

Adequate space within a dog house, depending on the size of the animal, was also a topic of debate as was thermal protection (against heat and cold) for domestic animals.

As for tethering/chaining, the commissioners propose that no animal shall be chained outdoors unattended without a chain, cable or tether designed to be attached to a harness, if deemed necessary by the Animal Control Officer. The maximum weight limit for a chain or tether shall not exceed 10 percent of the animal’s body weight.  All tethers shall be a minimum of ten (10) foot in length and have a swivel at both ends to prevent twisting and tangling.

There was pro and con debate on tethering….some see it as the worse form of inhuman treatment of an animal while others see it as a necessary evil due to the aggressive nature of some breeds of dogs.

“A lot of good points have been brought up here tonight,” said Commission Chair Linda Hofler. “There some things I’ve heard that we need to include (in the ordinance). I think we need to re-write some of this and let our (board) attorney to take a look at that and make sure what we’ve written is enforceable.”

The commissioners agreed to go back to the drawing board and re-address their proposed changes.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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