York County wants its animal control laws to have more bite than bark.
This afternoon, officials will recommend toughening the county's animal policies, guidelines both leaders and animal rights groups say are outdated -- and weak.
"As the county gets bigger and we become more suburban, people are expecting a level of service from us that we're not able to give them right now," said York County Animal Control manager Chris Peninger. "So it's a good time now to go over this thing and make some changes to (the laws) so that we can plan for the future."
None of today's recommendations will be voted on, but the County Council expects to use the suggestions in updating its laws.
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One change county staff will suggest is empowering animal control officers who don't have the authority to write tickets for animal law violations.
"They should be able to issue citations," said Martha Holcombe of the Animal Adoption League. "It doesn't help to have a law on the books if there's nobody there to enforce it."
Peninger said her officers often are called about abusive situations and have to get help from local law enforcement to deal with the problem.
"It's frustrating," she said. "And I think it's also frustrating for police officers because it puts an extra burden on them to have to go out and assist an animal control officer for something like a chronic leash law violation. ... They could be handling other things."
Along with enforcement problems, county officials will talk about a tethering policy.
That issue emerged in local debate after county authorities seized 13 pit bulls from a Rock Hill home in July. Police found a dozen dogs that lacked adequate shelter and were restrained by logging chains. Some of the animals didn't have access to water, and none of the dogs had tags indicating they'd received rabies shots.
In August, several animal rights groups asked the County Council to ban tethering, claiming that chaining makes dogs more aggressive and often leads to neglect. At the same meeting, several tethering proponents told the council that responsible pet owners should not be restricted because of others' cruelty.
County Manager Jim Baker said today's recommendations will include several possible tethering policies. He said the staff has tried to find laws that aren't too difficult to enforce or too intrusive, although he wouldn't give specifics.
Much of today's discussion, he said, focuses on similar changes across many policies, better defining what's legal and what isn't.
"Just because you have 20 cats and 20 dogs doesn't mean that's an abusive situation," he said. "It's all about how you're taking care of them."
But the language of the law isn't the only problem, said Janet Richardson of Richardson Rescue in York.
Although Richardson supports a tethering ban, she said local authorities need to enforce state laws that require pet owners to provide for their animals' basic needs, including food, water and shelter.
"I don't think it's time to change anything," she said, "unless you enforce the existing laws."
The workshop is open to the public and begins at 4 p.m. inside the county's Agricultural Building in York.