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County delays pet ordinance

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Pasquotank County commissioners have delayed a new law on how people must care for their pets in response to dog hunters' continued opposition to the measure.

In a unanimous vote Monday, commissioners sent a draft of the county's new animal welfare ordinance back to commissioners' special projects committee. That committee will meet on Thursday at 1 p.m. on the second floor of the Pasquotank Public Safety Building to discuss changes. The meeting is open to the public.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northeastern North Carolina has been pushing for the new ordinance since last summer. The new ordinance is needed because the county's animal control officers don't have clear authority to intervene when animals are left suffering in extreme weather or are inhumanely tethered, local SPCA President Kim Parrish argued then and earlier this month, when commissioners held a first vote on the new ordinance. The county requires new ordinances to pass unanimously on a first reading to take effect; commissioners only voted 5-2 for it, causing them to revisit it Monday.

However, dog hunters and other citizens warn the ordinance's language is unnecessary and over-broad. Among them is Bobby Harris, president of the Albemarle Houndsmen Association, who joined other hunters in reiterating their opposition on Monday.

In addition to arguing that state law already forbids animal cruelty, he also drew attention to the ordinance's requirements for adequate shelter. The ordinance defines “adequate shelter” as including four walls, a roof, and a solid floor raised off the ground.

That would mean hunters and other county residents couldn't keep their dogs in plastic barrels or similar rounded structures anymore, which Harris argued provide good protection from the weather and are sometimes better than normal dog houses. He also said hundreds of dogs in the county are housed in such barrels.

In another concern, Betsy Meads, vice chair of the Pasquotank Republican Party, also noted the ordinance doesn't differentiate between wild and domesticated animals. Requiring a person to provide an animal basic veterinary care, for instance, could apply to wild animals who live on someone's property, such as possums or feral cats, she explained.

Another speaker, Brenda White, also said it wasn't clear how much work the ordinance would create for animal control officers. She asked if the ordinance would require hiring more officers – a significant expense for the county.

A few speakers defended the ordinance on Monday, however. Dave Whitmer urged commissioners to pass the ordinance, arguing it requires “the most basic care” of animals. Anyone not willing or able to provide that level of care shouldn't have pets, he added.

He also argued animal welfare laws weren't effective enough. Two months ago, he saw a puppy in his neighborhood routinely tied up in the middle of a yard without any shelter or shade, he said. Animal control officers couldn't do anything, he said.

Patricia Sterritt similarly said that, while properly caring for pets can be expensive, that's an expense people must accept in owning them. Sterritt is also the wife of Pasquotank Vice Chair Bill Sterritt.

Following public comment, Commissioner Lloyd Griffin proposed modifying the ordinance's shelter requirements to address hunters' concerns over use of barrels and other rounded animal enclosures.

Commissioners Frankie Meads and Joe Winslow, who voted against the ordinance earlier this month, reiterated their concerns that its language was vague and hard to enforce.

Winslow also called for the sheriff's department to be involved in the ordinance.

Vice Chair Sterritt responded that the sheriff's department has been involved. He also told the audience the ordinance was not targeting hunters.

To fully consider changes to the ordinance, Pasquotank Chair Cecil Perry asked commissioners to send it back to the special projects committee. They agreed to do so.

Commissioner Jeff Dixon, who chairs the special projects committee, said after the meeting he hoped to bring an acceptable ordinance back to commissioners at their next meeting, putting it in effect for most of the summer.

During the meeting, Dixon also told White the new ordinance would not require hiring more animal control officers. Current officers will enforce the ordinance based on citizens' complaints, he said.

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