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Animal ordinance changes made

GATESVILLE – After months of discussion, the much-debated text amendments to the Animal Control Ordinance are just one meeting away from approval.

The only thing that remains to be seen is just how popular these changes will be among the general public.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here March 7, the Gates County Board of Commissioners devoted nearly two hours in addressing these text amendments. After back-and-forth banter between board members, sprinkled in with a few comments from the audience, the commissioners revised several portions of the existing ordinance while adding two new sections.

Those amendments/new sections will be formally presented at the next scheduled commissioners’ meeting, 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 4 in the main courtroom of the Gates County Courthouse. A public hearing will be held, after which time the commissioners can adopt the amendments or choose to make additional changes.

At last week’s meeting, the most debated text amendments were tethering and the size of the enclosure where dogs are housed.

Despite pleas from Sammy Denton, the Animal Control Officer for the Scotland Neck Police Department, and Rachel Bellis, Cruelty Investigations Department of PETA, to ban tethering all-together, the commissioners chose another route. Board chair Linda Hofler also expressed her desire to see tethering banned.

While they did suggest a text amendment that included language to outlaw an unattended dog, the board agreed to the following amendment to present to the public at the April 4 meeting:

Prohibition against Tethering of Dogs. It shall be unlawful to tether an unattended dog. When on the property or legal residence of the dog owner, dogs may run loose when attended by a responsible person who can control the dog either by voice commands or by a leash. When on the property or legal residence of the dog owner, dogs may run unattended if kept in a secure enclosure or an area surrounded by an operational electronic fence. The maximum weight limit for a chain or tether shall not exceed 10% of the animal’s body weight. All tethers shall be a minimum of ten (10) foot and have a swivel at both ends with a safety harness to prevent twisting and tangling. The prohibition regarding when or where dogs may run loose shall not apply to hunting dogs when they are being used for lawful hunting purpose.

The revised ordinance also adds to the Outdoor Standards section: No animal shall be chained outdoors unattended without a chain, cable or tether designed to be attached to a harness, if unless deemed necessary by the Animal Control Officer.

As for the size of an enclosure where a dog is kept, the commissioners discussed several ideas, to include a 10 by 15 by 6 foot pen. They also debated whether the size of an enclosure should be mandated according to the size/breed of the dog. In the end, they added this new proposed section to the ordinance: an enclosure should be a minimum of 10’x10’x6’ and allow adequate movement and room for exercise according to the size and number of animals in the area.

They also agreed to modify the wording in an existing section of the ordinance dealing with proper shelter. That revision now reads: [Dogs have] constant access to sufficient shelter large enough to allow adequate movement, three (3) sides, a roof and a solid floor that sits above the ground and protects from the weather, i.e. rain, wind, snow, hail, sleet, heat and/or direct sun. The entry opening should not be the entire side of the shelter. Barns and farm shelters are excluded from being required to have a floor that sits above the ground.

Other noted changes to the text of the ordinance included the following:

Adding that grass, 12 inches or higher, in an animal pen is specified as an inhumane condition, along with the existing text of that section: pens full of feces, water full of algae and dirt, moldy food, foul odor, unclean, and decomposing or diseased animals producing pungent/fetid odors.

It changes from 10 to three days that a person having custody of any animal, including strays, feral cats or dogs, kept on their property and provided sustenance are the owners/keepers of those animals.

Adds a new section about animals running at large: It shall be unlawful for any person owning or controlling any animal to allow the animal to create a nuisance or public danger by running at large. Each person owning or controlling an animal, including fowl, shall be responsible for taking whatever measures are reasonably necessary for keeping the animal on the owner’s premises or under the owner’s control when off his premises. This section shall not be interpreted as restricting persons owning specially trained hunting/working dogs, which can be controlled by voice commands, from actually using their dogs for hunting/working in the presence of and under the voice control of the owner or an agent of the owner.

The commissioners also favored, prior to next month’s public hearing, to remove the following paragraph from the ordinance: Quarantine fees paid to the county will be established by animal control and submitted to the Board of Commissioners for approval.

There were no changes made to the monetary penalties assessed to animal owners found in violation of any section of the ordinance. They remain at $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second, and $200 for a third and subsequent violations.

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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