County approves new animal ordinance
By Mike Conley | The McDowell News
Published: July 14, 2009
After months of discussion and listening to different viewpoints, the McDowell County Commissioners adopted a new animal ordinance at their regular Monday meeting.
The new rules, which become effective Aug. 13, were approved by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Michael Lavender voted against adopting the new ordinance.
The decision to make the rules effective on Aug. 13 will give officials time to post the changes on the county's Web site. The animal control officers will come under the Sheriff's Office while the operation of the animal shelter remains under the Public Works Department.
The revised 12-page ordinance requires local people to give their pets an adequate shelter, food, water and humane treatment. It covers how animals should be treated, the keeping of dangerous ones, how animals should be confined, rabies control, the unlawful killing of animals, the euthanization of feral dogs and cats and what to do with stray or abandoned ones. It does not require people to get their animals spayed and neutered. It also has rules for the keeping of exotic animals in McDowell County.
It replaces the old ordinance previously on the books and would give animal control officers an important tool as they do their jobs.
The new rules require owners or keepers of an animal to provide adequate food, water, shelter and humane treatment. The ordinance also applies to people who engage in dog fighting, cock fighting or any other combat between animals or animals and humans. Those activities are already prohibited in McDowell County. But the ordinance makes it unlawful for a person to possess any materials used in animal fighting or the training for animal fighting.
The new rules also prohibit the owners or keepers from abandoning an animal, except for when they are taken to the county's animal shelter during normal business hours. Persons also cannot transport any animal in an automobile or trailer in such a way that would cause pain, suffering or death.
The adopted ordinance creates a dangerous canine appeals board, which will consist of five members appointed from the county's Planning Board. This new board will hear and determine all appeals from the owners of such animals. If an animal control officer has determined that a dog is dangerous and should be euthanized, then the owner can appeal this decision to the newly created board.
At Monday's meeting, the commissioners deleted a $500 fine that could be assessed against violators of the ordinance. The highest fine that can be imposed is $200.
After months of work, the McDowell County Planning Board presented in March a revised animal ordinance to the County Commissioners.
"I appreciate our Planning Board," said Commission Chairman David Walker. "They spent five to six months working on this document. Chairman Max Boyd and his group did an outstanding job. Everybody's viewpoint was heard and examined."
Last month, the commissioners held a special workshop meeting so they could listen to different opinions. About 15 people showed up to attend the workshop meeting.
The commissioners listened to representatives from local animal welfare groups who asked that the ordinance contain more rules about inhumane tethering and specifications for a proper shelter. They also heard comments from residents who are opposed to the county placing more rules on property owners. Under North Carolina law, animals are considered property.
Several local animal welfare advocates asked county officials to consider rules that would ban the inhumane tethering of animals, especially dogs. They feel that animals should not be left tied up in someone's back yard without shelter. Tethered dogs can have behavioral problems and the practice could be considered inhumane, they said.
The adopted ordinance states, "It shall be unlawful to tether an animal to a stationary object under conditions that Animal Control Officer(s) deem harmful or potentially harmful to the animal."
Under the new ordinance, McDowell County will provide a manual of best practices for the proper tethering of animals. These will be guidelines for pet owners to follow. They won't be rules that can be enforced by animal control officers.
Under the new rules, every person who owns any pen, lot, kennel, shelter or other place where animals are kept shall maintain them in a sanitary and humane manner. All animals shall be provided with adequate shelter from the weather.
Animal welfare advocates also wanted to see a section in the ordinance stating what kind of materials should be used in a proper shelter, adding that a metal barrel is not good enough. The barrels can become hot in the summer and quite cold in the winter, they said.
With the new rules, the county will set up a metal barrel exchange program. The owner of a dog that is kept in a metal barrel could get a plastic one for free through this program.
"We do appreciate all the animal rights groups and their contributions as we prepared this ordinance," said Walker. "We appreciate their input."