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County’s new laws aim to require more humane dog restraints

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — In a rare divided vote, Rowan County commissioners on Monday approved a measure that will have a significant affect on animal restraint laws in the county.

By a 4-1 count that nearly included another “no” vote, commissioners approved regulations that aim to create more humane conditions for dogs kept outdoors. The regulations were proposed by Commissioner Craig Pierce and require restraints to be designed and placed in a manner that prevent strangulation. Pierce’s regulations propose a number of alternate, more humane ways to keep animals outdoors.

Pierce framed his proposal as one part of a package of changes that the county needs to make in its animal welfare efforts.

“We are fortunate enough to have a fantastic facility built and donated to us by Mrs. (Christine) Morykwas, but the building is just one part of the changes that we need to make to make sure that, No. 1, not only that we have control over what we are doing inside that building but also that citizens have a reasonability too that doesn’t end just when the animal is adopted,” Pierce said. “It also requires that they take care of that animal in a responsible way.”

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jim Greene voted against Pierce. Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds voted in favor, but expressed significant hesitation and offered multiple changes to Pierce’s proposal.

Greene said he was worried that the county’s animal services department didn’t have the resources it needs to implement the changes and enforce the new laws. When asked about his “no” vote, Greene said it wasn’t the right time to implement Pierce’s proposal. There are other things to focus on in the Animal Services department, Greene said.

When asked about his “yes” vote, Edds initially said he didn’t have a problem with Pierce’s proposal. When pressed, however, Edds echoed the same concerns as Greene.

The specific measures approved Monday say it’s preferable that dogs are kept indoors. Dogs older than six months, however, may be tethered outdoors.

An outdoor restraint system, as proposed by Pierce, could consist of “an overhead trolley system, a retractible cable system or a swivel cable anchored to the ground.” Restraint lines would need to be attached to dogs with a “buckle-type collar” or body harness.

Any option used for a dog would need to have a minimum restraint distance of 10 feet.

The requirements approved Monday would not apply to sporting and workings dogs, according to Pierce’s proposal.

About two dozen people showed up specifically for the portion of the meeting dedicated to Pierce’s proposal. However, only two of the group spoke during a public hearing on the matter — Peggy Mills and Mandy Nance.

When speaking in support of the laws, Mills said that owning an animal was a privilege and not a right. She told a story of what the laws aim to prevent — dogs being chained up and isolated in yards.

Nance also spoke in favor of the new laws.

“We cannot dictate compassion, but we can change the laws to direct people to give compassionate treatment,” she said.

During Monday’s meeting, Animal Services Director Bob Pendergrass told commissioners that he wasn’t sure what effect the new laws would have on his department. However, Pendergrass said animal control officers would enforce the new laws during routine investigations.

Pierce expanded on Pendergrass’ statement, saying that animal enforcement officers “wouldn’t be riding around trying to fix this.”

Pierce gave a motion that the new law be approved. Commissioner Judy Klusman gave a second.

During discussion, Edds raised a number of questions about the definition of adequate shelter. He specifically keyed in on two parts of the proposed law in his questioning — that cats would need adequate shelter and that aquatic or semi-aqatic animals shall have “an adequate amount of clean water in which to move.”

Although Edds seemed mostly serious about his questions, they elicited laughs from those in attendance.

During the series of questions, Pierce clarified that his proposal mostly sought to regulate requirements for dogs. Pierce allowed an amendment to his proposal that removed cats from the list of animals that require adequate shelter.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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