Advocates look for tighter control of feral cats, loose dogs

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2013

SALISBURY — A task force studying ways to prevent animal nuisances and encourage owners to take better care of their pets likely will ask City Council to limit or even ban the practice of chaining dogs.
“Tethering,” Theresa Pitner, a task force member, said with disdain. “Need I say more?”
Pitner and about 40 other animal advocates gathered Thursday night at the Park Avenue Community Center to come up with recommendations the task force will refine and could present to City Council as early as June 18.
After brainstorming sessions, participants used stickers to vote on their top animal concerns, listed on large sheets of paper. At first glance, the top vote-getters included:
• Tethering, either ban or restrict
• Barking

• Limit the number of animals at one residence
• Humane treatment of animals

• Pet registration
• Animal waste

• Implement a trap, neuter and release program to control feral cat population
• Slow response time from Rowan County Animal Control about loose dogs
• Lack of education about the need to spay and neuter pets
At a similar public forum about housing more than a year ago, participants named “nuisance animals in neighborhoods” as one of their top concerns.
“We didn’t forget about what you said,” Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell told the crowd Thursday.
The housing public forum led City Council to create the new Housing Advocacy Commission, as well as the Nuisance Animal Study Committee.
Neighborhood activist William Peoples said Salisbury is lucky no one has been killed by a pit bull because many owners flaunt the powerful dogs, encouraging aggressive behavior and overbreeding them.
Some committee members bristled at the mention of a specific breed. The task force includes several members who own pit bulls and advocate for the responsible ownership of the controversial dogs.
“It’s not the breed, it’s the person,” Pitner said.
Blackwell said committee members are not “breed-haters.”
Committee member Brian Romans agreed the behavior of pitbull owners as described by Peoples is a problem but encouraged him to direct criticism at the owner, not the dog at the end of the leash.
“If you were in a dream world where you could take away their pit bulls, they would have chows tomorrow and shepherds the next day,” Romans said.
Peoples agreed the problem is owners who refuse to properly care for their animals. He asked how the city can educate owners who are so ignorant that they encourage their dogs to lunge at people.
“How do you educate them?” Blackwell said. “You charge them. You hit them where it counts, in their pocketbook.”
Romans said the committee wants punitive measures against repeat offenders and a way to put some bite, not just bark, in the city’s animal ordinances.
The committee will meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall to go over the public forum results and come up with specific recommendations for City Council.
Members plan to appear at the June 18 City Council meeting. If the city eventually drafts a new animal ordinance, residents will have the opportunity to speak at a public hearing before a vote, said Joe Morris, the city’s retired planning director who moderated the forum.
The committee has researched nuisance animal ordinances in 31 other N.C. cities.
Forum participants also called for greater cooperation between Salisbury Police, Rowan County Animal Control and the city’s Code Enforcement Division, agencies that all deal with animal nuisances.
Salisbury Police Lt. Tom Wilsey said he’s a member of the committee because the Police Department wants to be part of the solution and help develop a better way to handle animal issues.
He gave attendees a tip to deal with a common neighborhood complaint.
“If you’ve got a barking dog at 2 a.m., call police,” he said. “We will put a stop to it.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.