County considers further limits on chaining up dogs

Published 4:32 pm Friday, April 23, 2010

A proposed new animal control ordinance for Polk County sets limits on chaining dogs, but it doesnt go far enough, say some citizens.
At a public hearing this month on the proposed revisions to the animal control ordinance, citizens urged county commissioners to do more to protect dogs who are left on chains. Commissioners plan to consider the revisions to the ordinance again at their meeting on Monday.
Citizens told commissioners at the hearing that the proposed additional limits on tethering are a start, but remain “very weak.”
The ordinance states dogs cannot be kept chained for more than 24 hours at a time. The current ordinance, which remains in place until revisions are approved by commissioners, does not have limits on the length of time a dog can be kept chained.
In the current ordinance, the only restriction is that the tether must have a swivel so the dog cannot get caught around an object. Outside of that, dog owners can comply with the current ordinance even if they keep their dogs chained in the same spot indefinitely.
“Ive seen dogs that have never been off the chain at all,” said Polk County Animal Control Officer Michael Herman. “Ive been doing this two years and there are dogs that have been on the same chain for two years come this August.”
County commissioner Tommy Melton expressed disgust and asked what those dog owners say when theyre approached by Herman.
“The reply is, Its my dog and I can do what I want with it,” said Herman. “The way they look at it if the dog has got food and water and shelter, its none of our business what they do with it.”
When asked by Melton how widespread the problem is in the county, Herman said he has seized lots of dogs that have been subject to cruelty.
“Its a big deal,” says Herman.
Debra Carton, who spoke during the public hearing on the proposed ordinance, was the most vocal in urging commissioners to do more.
While the proposed new ordinance limits the time on a chain, officials noted that a dog owner only has to take the dog off the chain for five minutes (or less) in every 24 hours to comply.
“There are countless low end breeders who think nothing of letting a dog live in the same four square feet their entire life,” said Carton. “These are sentient beings that deserve more from us.
“I urge you to strengthen the limit to no more than 12 hours (on a chain out of each 24 hours). If people cant comply then they dont need to have the animal.”
Dot Moyer, who helped with ordinance revisions, said problems are seen with horse owners too, although they usually are corrected quickly with some education.
The problem with dog chaining she said is “its an education thing, but also a cultural thing.”
“People need to realize that when you are putting a dog on the end of a chain it is mentally torturing them,” she said.
Moyer said shes seen dogs that were kept chained for years come into the Foothills Humane Society shelter and never adjust to the new environment.
“They never get over it,” she said. “They are crazy their whole life. It is abuse.”
Commissioners said they want to see what other counties are doing regarding time limits on tethering.
The proposed new animal control ordinance also establishes stronger penalties for animal cruelty and sets clearer requirements for ensuring adequate food, water and shelter for animals.
Along with some of the new restrictions, the ordinance also has some provisions that are considered “relaxed” compared to the current ordinance. The changes were made in recognition of the areas rural character.
The ordinance allows owners to take their dogs to the house of a family member or friend and be let off leash. A violation may occur regarding a dog at large only when a complaint is received.
The new ordinance also does not require rabies tags on dogs at all times, considering that the tags often come off. Dogs must still receive rabies vaccinations.
Following the public hearing, commissioners indicated they may adjust the ordinance to clarify how it applies to farm animals. One Polk County farmer said the proposed ordinance, as currently written, could result in penalties for routine practices on the farm.
For instance, he said, the ordinance requires water always be available, but he said water left for chickens sometimes freezes during the night.
He added that some requirements for the size and nature of cages or pens should be based on the size of a lot, and provisions regarding appeals should be clarified.
Commissioners planned to make some adjustments to the ordinance prior to Mondays meeting.

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