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SPCA head urges new animal welfare rules

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Shown is a pit bull that allegedly suffered from heat exposure and ultimately died in Gates County last month. According to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald, the Gates County Sheriff's Office is looking into the dog's death and treatment of other dogs on the property.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The local chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is calling on Pasquotank officials to set new rules for protecting pets from inhumane treatment.

During Monday's Board of Commissioners’ meeting, SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina President Kim Parrish asked commissioners to adopt a new animal welfare ordinance. Though state law forbids cruelty to animals, Parrish said the law has been “watered down” over the years, leaving animal control officers little ability to intervene when animals are left in poor conditions. 

In particular, dogs are often left in extreme weather conditions without adequate shelter, Parrish said.

“Animal control's hands are tied, because they get calls, we get calls, 'dogs are tied up in the backyard, what do we do?' There's not a lot we can do,” Parrish said.

Parrish said the SPCA's goal in seeking the animal welfare ordinance is to set clear standards so that Pasquotank animal control officers can educate the public, rather than seize animals and bring them to the SPCA's already crowded shelter.

“What we need here are ordinances that educate people; we don't want these people's animals, we have enough,” she said. “A lot of people aren't doing these things out of cruelty or meanness; it's really ignorance. One guy said he didn't know that a dog needed shade. It's beyond my understanding how you can tie up a dog in a backyard on a 98-degree day and think it doesn't need shade.”

Pet owners also sometimes don't realize the shelter they're providing is inadequate, Parrish explained. A dog house might as well be an “oven” on hot days, and animals need dry bedding to stay warm during the winter, she said.

Parrish also proposed the ordinance set standards for how animals are tethered. Dogs sometimes don't get properly fitting collars, or they're tied to chains that are too short or too heavy for them, she said.

Commissioners agreed to consider Parrish's proposal, but also raised some concerns.

Commissioner Lloyd Griffin questioned how the ordinance would be enforced, given Parrish's proposed ordinance didn't include penalties for failing to heed warnings from animal control officers.

In response, both County Attorney Michael Cox and Capt. Travis Jackson of the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office said a repeat offender could be charged criminally.

Commissioner Jeff Dixon asked Parrish what Elizabeth City's animal welfare rules are. After noting Pasquotank's animal control officers respond to complaints in the entire county, including the city, Dixon said the county adopting different rules could cause confusion.

That led both Dixon and Griffin to suggest any changes Pasquotank makes to its ordinance be done “in tandem” with the city’s policies on animal welfare.

Commissioners asked county staff to further research the proposed animal welfare ordinance and report back to them.

Though agreeing to work with the county and city on the ordinance, Parrish stressed that what the SPCA is seeking are basic and “sensible” standards for how animals are treated.

“I'm just appalled that we can't say, ‘you can't leave your dog in the rain or in 28-degree weather or in 100-degree weather,’” Parrish said. “There's got to be a way to make this better.”

Asked for comment Tuesday, Pasquotank Sheriff Randy Cartwright said he hadn't seen the specifics of what Parrish is proposing, and so he had no position on it. However, he said the sheriff's office does get “a few” calls about mistreated animals, particularly in the summer.

“Animals have to be taken care of just like people have to be taken care of,” Cartwright said.

He also noted that extreme weather advisories often remind people to tend to their pets.

The SCPA's proposed ordinance governing animal welfare in Pasquotank County would set more specific standards than are currently in place under state law.

North Carolina General Statute 14-360 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to overwork, injure, torment, “deprive of necessary sustenance,” or kill any animal, whether through direct or indirect action. It's also a felony to “maliciously” kill, beat or torture any animal.

However, the statute does not explicitly require animal owners to protect them from the elements, nor does it set standards for how they should be tethered.

The SPCA’s proposed ordinance would, if approved by county commissioners, set the following rules for Pasquotank County animal owners:

* Require their animals to be provided proper shelter, which is defined as a shelter or enclosure that will keep a non-aquatic animal dry, out of direct sunlight, and at a healthy temperature. The shelter shall include a floor raised off the ground, such as by blocks, and shall be large enough for the animal to stand and turn around in.

* Require animals to be kept in sanitary conditions, and the floors of their enclosures kept dry. In cold temperatures, dry bedding such as hay or straw shall be provided for warmth.

* Require animals to be provided “sufficient and wholesome food and water” in sufficient quantities to maintain the animals' health. Food appropriate for the animals shall be provided at least every 24 hours, and the animals must have constant access to clean water.

* Require animals to be provided the opportunity for “vigorous daily exercise,” and provided veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering.

* Require animals who are tethered to be fitted with a proper collar — choke chains, ropes and wires are not acceptable — and that tethers be attached to a collar, not tied around their neck. A collar must also include the owner's contact information.

* Require animals’ tethers not be less than 15 feet in length, and tethers’ weight not exceed 10 percent of a dog's body weight.

The proposed ordinance would also forbid people from teasing, baiting or molesting any animal. That includes throwing objects at an animal or trying to poke it through a fence. People also may not try to lure an animal off its owners' or keepers' properties.

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