Enquirer Herald

York County Council rejects changes to animal rules citing too many new laws

Animal advocates were outraged Monday after the York County Council rejected a proposal designed to beef up animal control’s authority, reduce unwanted pets, and locate large groups of animals.

The council voted 4-3 against the plan, with Chairman Britt Blackwell breaking the tie saying, “I want to start fresh … I’m just too nervous about some of these things that I see.”

Now staff will take parts of the proposal focusing on enforcement and start again, Blackwell said, adding that the plan as written had too many new laws in it.

Councilman Curwood Chappell opposed the changes, especially those dealing with livestock and large animals, though he said he hadn’t read the proposal fully because he’s been campaigning lately.

Councilman Eric Winstead, who opposed it, said it lacked “proactive” language to prevent violations. Councilman Bruce Henderson said the language contained “amendment after amendment” and wondered if it would deter people from rescuing animals.

The proposal would have added existing state laws for dealing with livestock and large animals to York County’s own law, which would give animal control officers the ability to write tickets for offenses, said Steve Stuber, animal control director.

The changes also would have shifted the responsibility of dealing with large animals from the York County Sheriff’s Office to animal control, freeing up deputies for law enforcement.

The proposal included new requirements for pet owners to spay female dogs tethered outside and to register with the county if they have five or more cats or dogs.

“I’m so disheartened. I just cannot believe,” said Robin King, a volunteer at the York County animal shelter, after the meeting, with tears welling in her eyes. On Friday, the shelter “needlessly” euthanized many puppies, she said.

Of the 835 dogs and cats the shelter accepted in May, only 249, or 29.8 percent, were adopted, rescued or returned to their owners, Stuber said.

Alicia Schwartz, with the Committee for Responsible Pet Ownership, was “shocked” with the council’s quick rejection.

“It would alleviate the sheriff’s department, it would alleviate the pet population. ... All they were trying to do was keep an eye on how many animals people had, and they weren’t charging anything, it was costing them nothing,” she said.

Some council members and animal control officials have been working to improve the county’s animal laws after the council’s decision last year not to make pet owners license their animals for a fee. In theory licensing would have encouraged spaying and neutering, but many council members didn’t want to tax pet owners.

Councilman David Bowman, who opposed licensing last year, said the proposal would save the county money over time by allowing sheriff’s deputies to look for “bad guys instead of looking for cows on the road.”

Bowman, Councilman Bump Roddey, who supported the plan, and Councilman Chad Williams, who didn’t say either way, pushed for approval Monday to keep the plan on the table for revision later.

Despite the plan’s failure Monday, the council realizes “there’s a problem,” Blackwell said, and wants to move quickly with county staff to address the enforcement issues.