Proposed changes to a York County animal control law will move forward even though they are sparking debate among animal support groups and elected leaders.
York County Council held a public hearing earlier this week on a variety of law changes. Council then passed the second of three readings needed to make them law. The rules define pets, certain animals, shelter, restraints, adoption procedure, and costs.
For many, the rules bring up the issue of chaining dogs.
“This ordinance is not about chaining,” said Councilman William “Bump” Roddey. He said some people misunderstood him at a June 14 public works committee meeting, which sparked concerns that he or the county animal control director favored chaining. “That has never been the situation. That has never been the case.”
In June, the Animal Adoption League and others called for county residents to oppose Roddey’s request to reintroduce chaining. Roddey said he’s gotten calls and emails, from in-state and out-of-state, ever since. Councilwoman Allison Love, a member of the public works committee, which Roddey chairs, said she believes he’s gotten a bad rap.
“He has not proposed, at any point, that we chain dogs again,” Love said. “What he asked for was clarification of an ordinance from a time when most of us were not on this council, but he was.”
The county went through an extensive review of animal control rules in 2012. The rule put on the books then didn’t match what he and others at that time believed it actually did, Roddey said. Interpreting the rule has been a challenge, due in part to language on whether chaining, or tethering, is used as a primary or secondary restraint.
In addition to price changes for some animal control surrender services, Love proposed Monday night getting rid of references to “primary” restraint.
“If you remove the word primary from that, and any time a dog is restrained by a tether, you would follow those rules,” said David Hudspeth, interim county manager. “It makes it very simple to enforce in that case.”
Roddey said he believes that single word change is major.
“It is a major change because now it doesn’t allow someone to say my fence is the primary, and you can’t tether a dog if it’s inside a fence because there’s no primary,” he said. “The word primary is a key and major change to this ordinance.”
The issue of primary or secondary restraint also was a major hangup in 2012, he said.
“That’s the sticking point that allows citizens to be able to tether their dogs, so this is a major change,” Roddey said.
Council voted 5-2 Monday night, with Roddey and Councilman Robert Winkler against sending it to third reading.
The 2012 changes took at least half a year to review. The current ones should remain in the public works committee, Roddey said, until that group can vote on a recommendation for the full council. Throwing items like the primary wording and cost changes in for a council vote isn’t the way council does business, Roddey said.
“It’s very disrespectful as one of the longest serving council members up here, to have these tactics done to make this ordinance work,” Roddey said.
Love said the late changes are minor, and most were at least discussed if never voted on in committee. Roddey said the reason votes weren’t taken is more study needs to happen.
“It’s a major change and it should’ve been in committee,” Roddey said of the primary wording, “and we don’t do business this way.”
Many rule supporters filled the meeting, several of them speaking for improvements, both proposed and requested. Rescuers, dog behavioral trainers and a veterinarian asked the county to do anything possible to improve the lives of animals and people.
“Animal control is more than just a legal issue,” said Wendy Weisenfeld from York. “It’s a community issue.”
She said she wants one line up for removal to be left in. That line states owners are responsible for keeping animals under restraint at all times. Weisenfeld applauded any effort to refuse adoption based on a history of abandonment or poor treatment of animals.
“If advocates and rescuers could have one wish granted, it would be that no adoptions should be allowed by previous offenders, period,” she said.
Wesenfeld said she is concerned about low cost adoption events, and dogs that “boomerang” back from them. Inability to pay traditional adoption and vet fees doesn’t bode well, she said, for pet ownership.
“Then you certainly won’t be able to afford all that it takes to properly take care of your animal,” she said.
Rescuer Sarge Douglas from Rock Hill said positive change came in 2012, but not enough.
“There was a lot that was left too broad and open for interpretation from the animal control officers,” she said.
She said at times different officers give different decisions on the same issue. One officer, she said, tends to favor education rather than enforcement.
“We have so many repeat offenders,” Douglas said. “How many chances do you give someone before you realize education isn’t going to work?”
Other times, she said, fines or other penalties are scaled down at court.
“More often than not, it’s suggested by the animal control officer,” Douglas said.
The public spoke of animal registration and enforcement. Many returned to chaining.
“Chaining is long outdated, and many counties around us now have no-chaining ordinances,” said Rose Chmielewski, another rescuer.
It’s an issue, she said, of public safety and the humane treatment of animals.
Kelly Baete owns Baxter Veterinary Clinic near Fort Mill. She said she sees many injuries and illnesses that she relates to chaining.
“We see sometimes horrific injuries like broken legs or strangulation, and sometimes heartbreaking cases that could be prevented like death from heat stroke or heart worm disease,” Baete said.
She said she also has concerns as a parent. Chaining dogs allows more animals to be kept on a property, she said, better allowing puppy mills, hoarding or dog fighting. Chained animals unable to release their energy are more dangerous, she said.
“They are going to be more prone to biting,” Baete said.
Roddey and Love differ when it comes to animals. She has rescues from the Caribbean and made animal control a top priority in running for office. He doesn’t own a dog. But both see animal control changes as important for the county.
“There’s a lot of need in this county, and we are very fortunate to have so many people that show up on behalf of animals,” Love said.
Roddey said he doesn’t want to pass rules the county can’t enforce, or would need to spike taxes for pet owners and non-pet owners alike to make happen.
“We can put anything on the books,” Roddey said. “But do we have the resources to enforce these particular laws?”
Roddey said people vary in whether they have pets, how many, how much time they spend with those animals and more that needs to be considered before passing blanket rules. He and Love agree that, like in 2012, there is nothing stopping the county from looking to improve animal control even once it passes new rules.
“We will be back down this road again on some other measures,” Roddey said. “This thing is going to keep evolving.”
The current work, Love argues, is a start.
“I don’t think we’re done, but for right now I’m happy with what we’ve done,” she said.