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First vote on animal welfare law fails

Animal Shelter Rescue-1

A worker with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals holds a rescued dog in Wake County in this Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 file photo. Pasquotank commissioners are considering an animal welfare ordinance.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Pasquotank County commissioners will have to take a second vote on a new animal welfare ordinance after the first vote wasn’t unanimous.

Commissioners voted 5-2 Monday to adopt an ordinance that would, among other provisions, require pet owners to provide their animals shade and shelter during extreme temperatures.

Voting for the ordinance were board Chairman Cecil Perry, Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt and Commissioners Charles Jordan, Lloyd Griffin and Jeff Dixon. Voting against it were Commissioners Frankie Meads and Joe Winslow.

Because all new ordinances have to pass unanimously to take effect on their first reading, Pasquotank County Attorney Michael Cox advised commissioners they will have to take a second vote for the measure to be adopted. That vote, which requires only a simple majority in favor, could be taken at commissioners’ next meeting on June 18. 

Pasquotank is pursuing the new ordinance at the urging of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northeastern North Carolina. Local SPCA President Kim Parrish called for the new rules last summer, telling commissioners that the county's animal control officers often get reports of mistreated animals, but lack authority to intervene.

Among other changes, the new ordinance would require pet owners to provide their animals “proper shelter and protection from the weather,” sufficient and wholesome food and water, an opportunity for “vigorous daily exercise,” and veterinary care when needed. Owners also could not allow their dogs to live in unsanitary or inhumane conditions.

The new ordinance also seeks to ensure animals are tethered humanely, forbidding tethers that are too short. The provision is designed to ensure animals can exercise and reach food, water and shelter. The ordinance also would forbid tethering dogs with tethers that are more than 10 percent of their body weight, forbid tethering dogs younger than four months old, and forbid tying a tether around a dog's neck, rather than attaching it to a collar.

Prior to commissioners’ vote on the ordinance, speakers for and against the measure addressed commissioners during a public hearing.

Bobby Harris, president of the Albemarle Houndsmen Association, a group that hunts with dogs, said he opposes the ordinance because he considers it unnecessary.

“We feel like there are enough laws on the books,” Harris said. “If the dog's out there with no shade in the hot summertime, that's abuse.”

Harris also stressed he and other dog hunters put a lot of time and effort into properly caring for their dogs.

Harris appeared to be alluding to existing state law, General Statute 14-360, that makes it a crime to deprive an animal of “necessary sustenance” or to “torture” or “torment” them, among other forms of mistreatment.

The statute also defines torture and torment of an animal as “any act, omission, or neglect causing or permitting unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death,” but does not explicitly state animals must have shelter that provides a comfortable temperature and sanitary conditions.

Others who spoke briefly against the ordinance Monday included Doug Temple, L.E. White and Kevin Bailey.

Defending the new ordinance, Parrish again argued state law doesn't cover all animal welfare issues.

“We have to have this ordinance because there is no way animal control has any authority to go on these properties and do anything about animals that are being neglected and treated cruelly,” she said.

Parrish also said the SPCA and animal control see neglect on a “daily basis,” as concerned county residents constantly call them about neglected animals.

“I know the public is tired of our law enforcement saying 'our hands are tied' when a dog may be in distress in a backyard,” she said.

Other speakers in favor of the ordinance Monday included Elizabeth Whitmer, Alina Maur, and Patricia Sterritt, Bill Sterritt’s wife. Bill Sterritt also read to commissioners emails in support of the ordinance from two citizens, Donna Gilbird and Lisa Smith.

Addressing the dog hunters in the audience, Griffin told them the new ordinance doesn’t target them. It’s instead targeted at other residents who neglect their animals, he said.

“It's not you guys who are causing the problem,” Griffin said.

He did challenge the hunters, however, to help provide other county residents with proper shelter for their dogs.

Dixon, who chaired the county's Special Projects Committee that first considered the ordinance, said the changes will fill a “gap” in the current ordinance. He also encouraged the hunters to identify specific parts of the ordinance that concern them.

For his part, Meads said he had several concerns about the ordinance. For example, the ordinance doesn't consider the underside of a house to be adequate shelter, though Meads suggested it could be. He also said the ordinance needs to consider different breeds' different tolerance levels for extreme temperatures. The ordinance presumes that all animals need shelter or to be brought indoors during prolonged hot or cold temperatures.

Meads also said the ordinance should forbid “provoking” an animal instead of merely “teasing” it, referring to a section seeking to restrict people from harassing other people's animals or luring them off their owner’s property.

Meads also questioned the ordinance's requirement that dogs be provided clean water. He said he had a dog that loved to drink from a ditch, which might not be considered clean water. The ordinance states an animal must be provided clean water, such as a bowl of tap water, but doesn’t forbid them drinking from ditches or puddles.

Winslow said he opposed the ordinance because he considers it vague. He also doesn’t believe it would stop animal neglect or cruelty.

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