Officials offer possible dog tethering plans

Hoping to find compromise amid a heated debate, York County staff rolled out three possible dog tethering plans Monday.

During an afternoon workshop in council chambers, a packed house heard suggestions about how the county could strengthen its animal ordinances, which leaders have said are extremely outdated.

County officials recommended giving animal control officers the authority to ticket those who abuse animals, better defining what "adequate shelter" means and refusing to allow people with a history of animal abuse to adopt pets from the county shelter.

But the issue most came to hear about was tethering.

The county had been working to update its animal laws for months, but tethering became the most controversial policy issue after 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.

Then 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.

Many of the same people were on hand Monday, when county staff offered three tethering options for the council to consider:

• Prohibit tethering of any kind;

• Allow dogs to be tethered, but only to a trolley or zip line; or

• Allow tethering with restrictions on how heavy and long a tether can be.

The council didn't vote on a policy, and leaders asked for public feedback about the issue. They said they hope to soon offer a feature on the county's Web site where people can comment on the matter.

County Councilman Curwood Chappell said it's unfortunate policy changes are needed because a few people aren't taking care of their animals.

"It's a shame to have to force some of them to provide (for their animals)," he said. "You can't send anybody to school to be moral."

After the meeting, people on both sides of the tethering debate said they agreed with many of the county's suggestions.

"A lot of the proposals actually, to a certain extent, probably need to be enforced," said York's Jamy Morrison, president of the Palmetto State American Pit Bull Terrier Club.

Morrison said her primary concern is that the council doesn't pass laws targeting specific breeds of dogs.

"I definitely don't want to be stereotyped because of the breed of dog I own," she said.

She liked the county's suggestion of a tethering policy with standards, but she said those rules must be reasonable. A trolley system, she said, would not be durable enough to restrain her dogs.

"I don't want my dog I travel the country with showing getting loose because of some system and mating with a dog that's running around," she said.

"And then here goes my thousands of dollars worth dog ... and I've got little mutt puppies."

Inge Smith, who wants chaining outlawed, said she appreciates the county's approach to updating its laws, but also hopes leaders will require pet owners who refuse to spay or neuter their animals to pay a lofty fee.

"Overall, the County Council is trying to do the right thing," she said.

"There are some things that were not addressed that we would like (leaders) to address."

The County Council must vote on any changes before they become permanent.