Barking up the wrong tree? Council debates whether to take back animal control responsibilities

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

SALISBURY — Still facing regular complaints about dogs on the loose and other animal control issues, city officials discussed today possibly taking back those responsibilities from Rowan County.
“If we are going to have any success at all, we’re going to have to take it back,” Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson said during the second day of City Council’s two-day retreat.
The goal-setting conference is being held at the Rowan Museum and is set to wind up about 4:30 p.m.
City Councilman Brian Miller said he wanted to make sure council was not taking collaboration off the table by discussing an end to its animal contract with Rowan County.
“I want to fully understand what we have,” Miller said, but he added, “there’s no question there’s a service break.”
Under a contract the city signed with the county in 2009, there is no requirement for an animal control officer to respond to loose animal calls after hours, because it is not considered an emergency.
Code Services Manager Chris Branham pointed out two areas of the city’s contract with the county which are not being met.
Section 1(c) of the contract says, “County and city personnel will work together to develop a single set of animal control regulations that apply across the city and county; and that will be adopted by both the Salisbury City Council and the Rowan County commissioners.”
The other section says a quarterly report will be provided by the Animal Control Office “listing the number and types of calls handled by county animal control officers from service requests within the city.”
It adds those reports will be forwarded to the chief of police.
Branham said Police Chief Rory Collins has sent two letters to Rowan County Animal Control Supervisor Clai Martin since September 2013 requesting a meeting to discuss sections of the contract not being met.
“Both letters yielded no response from Mr. Martin or Rowan County,” Branham said.
City Manager Doug Paris said he was looking for feedback from council members on how to proceed with the contract.
In 2012, the last year for which figures are available, the Salisbury Police Department received 238 calls for service on animal control issues in the city.
They included 69 calls for animals running at large, 70 for barking dogs, 10 animal bites, 20 injured or neglected animals, 19 suspicious animals and 50 other types of animal control calls.
Rowan County Animal Control as a whole received 2,120 calls that same year.
Assessing the current situation in Salisbury, Branham said neighborhoods were becoming plagued with animals living in inhumane conditions.
In addition, he reported, “They are seeing stray dogs and cats that are causing a nuisance, especially during the off hours.”
“Some loose animal cases are reported, but many are not due to the assumption nothing will be done.”
Growing out of discussions at the 2013 retreat, City Council appointed a Nuisance Animal Study Committee to talk with residents, animal advocates, code enforcement personnel, animal control officers and animal caregivers.
The committee members were charged with researching possible enforcement policies.
Members of the committee include Matthew Dellinger, Nina Dix, Rebekah Julian, Susan Norvell, Theresa Pitner, Lorraine Reidda and Brian Romans.
They contacted 31 different municipalities across North Carolina to see how they handled issues such as loose animals, fines, tethering and the number of animals allowed in one location.
The municipalities ranged in size from 18,000 to 50,000 people.
The committee also held a public workshop May 30, 2013, at which 40 people attended. Branham said 21 specific items were discussed at the meeting, and the committee identified the top nine problems to address.
Those problems or concerns were feral cats, the lack of public education or information, fines, loose animals, tethering, inhumane treatment, barking, wild animals and waste.
On feral cats, Dix and Julian have started a trap/neuter/release program. As for education, they are exploring the possibility of writing a regular column for the Salisbury Post and putting together informational brochures to be distributed in neighborhoods.
The committee has proposed a graduated fine system to address things such as loose animals and barking complaints.
On fines, the committee recommends a written warning on the first public nuisance offense, followed by $50, $100 and $200 fines. Impoundment would be the final straw.
All other animal control violations would carry a written warning, followed by fines of $100, $200 and $500. Impoundment again would be the end game.
Tethering of a dog will still be allowed, as long as the chain is at least 10 feet long. There is no recommendation on a maximum number of pets allowed in one location, except for a residence’s being allowed only one dangerous dog, as defined in city ordinances.
Several amendments have been recommended to city codes related to nuisance animals, humane treatment of animals, tethering, shelters, impoundment, citations and what constitutes dangerous and vicious.
The council has yet to act on these possible updates, which already are in use in other municipalities.
The Police Department and Code Enforcement Division would be given the authority to enforce these code changes.
A nuisance animal would fit one of these descriptions:
• Gets into or turns over garbage containers.
• Walks on and/or sleeps on automobiles of another.
• Damages gardens, foliage or other real or personal property.
• Continuously or frequently roams or is found on the property of another.
• Is maintained in an unsanitary condition, so as to be offensive to sight or smell.
• Is not confined to a building or secure enclosure, while in heat.
• Chases, snaps at, attacks, or otherwise molests pedestrians, bicyclists, motor vehicle passengers, farm stock or domestic animals.
• Urinates on private property without the permission of the owner.
• Is diseased or dangerous to the health of the public.
• Is maintained outside, less than 10 feet from a public street, road or sidewalk and poses a threat to the general safety, health and welfare of the general public.
On waste, it would be the responsibility of an animal’s owner or custodian to remove feces from public or private property.
“The custodian must have a bag or other container in his/her possession that closes and is suitable for removing feces when not on personal property,” the proposed code amendment says.
Abandoning an animal in a vehicle can be considered an act of animal cruelty, according to the proposed amendments.
And adequate outside shelter for an animal would not include a dog’s staying underneath steps, inside or underneath a vehicle, inside a barrel or cardboard box, or inside a building with no windows or adequate ventilation.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.