By Chris Berendt Staff Writer
April 1, 2014
A proposed Animal Control ordinance was put to the public Monday night, with many residents expressing their hope to see neglectful pet owners — not the pets themselves — punished as part of the enforcement of such a document.
A short-handed Sampson Board of Commissioners, with just members Harry Parker, Jefferson Strickland and Billy Lockamy in attendance, heard from those who drafted the ordinance before gauging public input. No vote was taken.
At the end of the 45-minute session, Strickland said he appreciated the comments and noted the board would further address the ordinance at a later date. Discussed in some form or fashion for the last year, the proposed ordinance was drafted by a committee comprised of Health Department, Sheriff’s Office, Animal Shelter and Board of Health representatives formed at the beginning of 2013.
It has been revised in recent months, with a section of privilege license tax eliminated completely. The proposed ordinance is expected to provide stronger legal authority for Animal Control deputies, as well as local health officials, in addressing public safety matters concerning animals with which they are regularly confronted but have no ordinance to consult.
Health director Wanda Robinson gave a brief overview of the ordinance after which Sheriff’s Cpl. Jessica Kittrell answered some frequently asked questions before opening the floor to the public.
“The purpose of the animal control ordinance is to outline the roles and responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Department, the Animal Shelter and the Health Department,” said Robinson. “It also promotes the public health, safety and welfare of people in our community.”
Dangerous dogs, nuisance and injured animals, cruelty and abandonment, bites, strays, animal fighting and the keeping of wild and exotic animals are among those topics detailed in the draft document.
While establishing functions for Animal Control deputies and the Health Department, the ordinance also establishes the Board of Health as the Dangerous Dog Appeal Board, which encompasses the declaration of dangerous dogs, the appeal process and the security and restraint requirement for those deemed dangerous, which would be required to be micro-chipped.
“The ordinance provides regulations to protect your health and safety from rabies and other animal-borne illness, from dangerous and biting animals, to protect your property and to promote the proper care and treatment of animals,” Kittrell noted.
She went through some of the most-received queries from residents, answering them one by one.
“There will be a leash law, but it is actually called a ‘running at large law.’ You will be required to keep your animals on your property by any means necessary. Animals will have to be under the owner’s control at all times while off the owner’s property,” Kittrell remarked.
The “running at large law” does not apply to hunting dogs that are in a lawful hunt, she noted.
Animal Control officers will be responding to complaints from citizens based on priority, not simply riding up and down county roads looking for loose animals. “However, they will have the legal authority to impound animals found off of the owner’s property,” Kittrell said. “Having animals run loose may cause other problems.”
Per the ordinance, an animal could be picked up and, after 72 hours, euthanized. If the owner is not known and the animal is not reclaimed within that three-day period, the animal would be either considered for adoption or euthanized, making it particularly important for pets to wear an ID and rabies tag, Kittrell pointed out.
Tethering dogs is not against the law as long as it is done correctly, according to the ordinance. A rope or chain used to tether the dog must not be directly around the dog’s neck and must be hooked to a collar. The dog must have access to food, water and shelter and the tether cannot be in a place where it is easily entangled, and must not weigh more than one-tenth of the animal’s body weight.
“If you have a 40-pound dog, the chain should not weigh more than 4 pounds,” Kittrell clarified.
All dogs, cats or ferrets must have a valid rabies vaccination at 4 months of age, even if they are confined to the home. That is not only a county ordinance, but a state law, Kittrell stated. Both cats and dogs have to display their rabies tags.
The ordinance does have restrictions for the amount of animals owned within municipalities, which would have to opt-in to the ordinance, approving it for within their corporate limits.
Those restrictions would include no hogs, pigs, swine or animals of the porcine family; and no horse, mule, pony, cow or goat stabled or housed within 100 feet of any dwelling house, school, church or eating establishment. According to the proposed ordinance, there also would be no more than 10 chickens or rabbits allowed at a dwelling or on a specific property.
Problem is owners,
James Anderson of Minnie-Hall Road, Autryville, asked that the ordinance not come down so hard on the animals, but penalize the people.
“Upon reading the ordinance, it struck me that the domesticated animal is not the problem. It’s the undomesticated owners of some of the animals that are the problem, because they don’t provide the care, the maintenance, or the guidance the animals need,” Anderson said. “We have to keep that in mind. I hate to see any animal euthanized just because their owner is too sorry to take care of it.”
Anderson asked if it would take funds for more personnel to enforce the ordinance. And, if so, he asked, would the county revisit adding the privilege license section back at a later date?
“That’s the one thing that really irked me,” Anderson said of the omitted section on privilege license tax. “I already pay a privilege tax in the form of a county tax to live here and pay sales tax when I buy pet food here.”
County manager Ed Causey said the county expected some challenges in educating people on the ordinance, which he did not foresee including those privilege license fees in the short term. While some increased workload is anticipated, more personnel is not, the county manager noted.
“At this point in time, we do not have plans to increase the staff level,” said Causey. “We always have to look at the challenges we’re facing and make adjustments.”
Betty Harvey of Timberlake said she has never had a lot of pets, but previous neighbors let their cat out and she subsequently gave birth to multiple litters, leaving numerous pitiful-looking kittens. Harvey and her husband took it upon themselves to get all of those cats — there were a great number — spayed and neutered several years ago. They have since fed them to ensure they stay healthy.
The cats live in a wooded area near their home and are feral, she said, inquiring as to what fines she could face if someone complained about the cats.
“I can’t catch those cats again to get them rabies shots. What kind of penalties and fines am I going to incur because I feed and keep water out for those cats? That’s a big concern of mine. We had them all fixed and those cats are still out in the woods. I don’t think I should be penalized for something my neighbor did. I cannot stand the thought of those animals not being fed and having water.”
Kittrell said, under the ordinance, there could be a fine assessed due to failure to vaccinate.
“Once you begin to feed any animal for an extended amount of time, you would be considered (to be) harboring them,” Kittrell said. “You have taken over the responsibility of feeding them so you’re responsible for them. Spaying and neutering them is great, the issue is if the cat gets into a fight with a feral raccoon, that’s going to spread through (the other cats) like wildfire. That could be your worst nightmare. If you cannot control the animal and get the rabies shot, it’s best to have Animal Control pick it up.”
Harvey said she knew where that would lead for wild cats — euthanization.
“I’m not going to abandon those animals,” said Harvey. “There’s got to be another way than euthanizing those cats. I was told they put them to sleep within days of picking them up. I think instead of us trying to find a way of euthanizing these animals, we need to find a way to penalize (owners). These animals can’t help what they do.”
Under the proposed ordinance, Kittrell noted, owners who let their animals loose would be subject to fines for abandonment as well as the running at large law, giving the county more teeth in protecting the public and penalizing poor pet owners.
To read the proposed animal ordinance in its entirety, visit the Sampson County website, at www.clintonnc.com.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.