After more than a year of work and subsequent revisions, a Sampson County Animal Control Ordinance anticipated to put more teeth in the enforcement of animal-related violations was unanimously approved, just a week after the public spoke to the proposed draft.
While the ordinance was adopted in a 4-0 vote, it counts as a first reading because not all members of the Board of Commissioners were present for Monday’s vote. According to county officials, the vote will simply be taken again when Commissioner Jarvis McLamb, absent from the proceedings, is present as a second reading and another official vote cast
Discussed in some form or fashion for the last year, the ordinance was drafted by a committee comprised of local Health Department, Sheriff’s Office, Animal Shelter and Board of Health representatives formed at the beginning of 2013.
County manager Ed Causey complimented the ordinance team, as well as the board, for their diligence and consideration of the ordinance.
“I think we have met three or four times and had some pretty substantive discussions on this and you’ve made a number of revisions,” the county manager remarked. “I think your thoroughness and effort ought to be denoted by the citizens of the county.”
Health director Wanda Robinson echoed that thanks.
“This has been a long process, but I think it has been a learning process,” said Robinson. “What we’ve done tonight will most certainly benefit the citizens of the county.”
The proposed ordinance is expected to provide stronger legal authority for Animal Control deputies, as well as local health officials, in addressing public safety matters concerning animals with which they are regularly confronted but have no ordinance to consult.
“The purpose of the animal control ordinance is to outline the roles and responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Department, the Animal Shelter and the Health Department,” Robinson has said. “It also promotes the public health, safety and welfare of people in our community.”
Dangerous dogs, nuisance and injured animals, cruelty and abandonment, bites to humans and other animals, strays, animal fighting, the keeping of wild and exotic animals, as well as rules concerning rabies vaccination for dogs, cats, ferrets or other pets are among those topics addressed in detail as part of the document.
While establishing functions for Animal Control deputies and the Health Department, the ordinance also establishes the Board of Health as the Dangerous Dog Appeal Board, which encompasses the declaration of dangerous dogs, the appeal process and the security and restraint requirement for those deemed dangerous, which would be required to be micro-chipped.
“The ordinance provides regulations to protect your health and safety from rabies and other animal-borne illness, from dangerous and biting animals, to protect your property and to promote the proper care and treatment of animals,” Sheriff’s Cpl. Jessica Kittrell, one of the county’s three Animal Control officers, noted.
The board held several work sessions on the ordinance and the team reviewed and revised it — a section of privilege license tax eliminated completely — in response to the board’s suggestions. A public hearing was held last week to receive public comment, at which many raised concerns that bad pet owners, not their pets, be punished.
In introducing the subject to commissioners Monday, Causey said the board could go ahead and vote on the ordinance, have further discussions and modifications or delay action.
“Based on the hearing, I think it would be the staff’s recommendation that we move forward to ending this whole process at the earliest possible date,” said Causey.
Commissioners said they wanted to move forward.
“I feel pretty good about the modifications and I feel like we should move forward in adopting this Animal Control Ordinance,” Commissioner Harry Parker.
Board chairman Jefferson Strickland said he did not know what to expect from last week’s hearing, but was pleased with the response.
“It was very positive,” said Strickland. “If I’m sensing the county feeling, they want this ordinance passed. If we should pass this, if something down the line needs to be modified, there is nothing that says that can’t be done.”
There is a leash law as part of the ordinance, but it is actually called a “running at large law.” Owners will be required to keep animals on their property by any means necessary or under their control while off the property. The “running at large law” does not apply to hunting dogs that are in a lawful hunt, she noted.
Animal Control officers will be responding to complaints from citizens based on priority, not simply riding up and down county roads looking for loose animals.
“However, they will have the legal authority to impound animals found off of the owner’s property,” Kittrell said. “Having animals run loose may cause other problems.”
An animal could be picked up and, after 72 hours, euthanized, per the ordinance. If the owner is not known and the animal is not reclaimed within that three-day period, the animal would be either considered for adoption or euthanized, making it particularly important for pets to wear an ID and rabies tag, Kittrell pointed out.
Tethering dogs is not against the law as long as it is done correctly, according to the ordinance.
A rope or chain used to tether the dog must not be directly around the dog’s neck and must be hooked to a collar. The dog must have access to food, water and shelter and the tether cannot be in a place where it is easily entangled, and must not weigh more than one-tenth of the animal’s body weight.
Under the ordinance, fines will be assessed for failure to properly confine and tether animals, failure to provide treatment for diseased, injured or sick animals; and failure to provide food, water and/or shelter to an animal. Additionally, those who fail to provide proof of vaccination tag, fail to spay or neuter an adopted animal and engage in the inhumane treatment or cruelty of animals are also subject to punishment under the ordinance.
The civil penalty for a first violation is $50. For subsequent violations within 12 months, the penalty will be $100 for a second violation and $200 for a third, and any subsequent, offense.
Under the proposed ordinance, the county has the authority to waive fines for first time offenders if it can be demonstrated that the owner of the animal has come into compliance with the ordinance and the violation did not threaten the health, safety or welfare of the general public.
“I think what our staff has put together will (allow us) to control these issues a little better,” said Commissioner Billy Lockamy. “It’s probably been needed all along.”
To see the entire ordinance, visit the Sampson County website at www.sampsonnc.com.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.