By Roger Barbee
In the Shenandoah County Code, Article II under Animal Welfare it is written:
"62-5 Responsible animal care: It shall be unlawful for any owner or harborer of a domestic animal to fail to provide the following for his animal:
A. a sufficient quantity of good and wholesome food and water and adequate exercise.
B. adequate protection and shelter from the weather
C. veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or disease transmission
D. adequate care, treatment and transportation"
On Tuesday we were in our second (or third?) Arctic blast. Seeing a young, yellow dog chained to its plastic doghouse in such weather, I called the county dog warden and asked him, for the second time this winter, to check on the dog's welfare. He did, and he called me to report on the dog's condition.
The dog warden told me that there were rags in the doghouse, but that he would prefer that hay had been provided; that the food dish had recently been filled, and that there was water in a bowl. When I asked if the water was frozen, the warden responded that it was.
I asked how the dog could get water, and the warden responded that it could lick the ice. I asked how these conditions could pass the Shenandoah County Code, and the dog warden told me that he would not cite the owner(s) for these conditions because, in his opinion, the dog was being adequately taken care of. He and I agreed to disagree.
The dog warden has always gone out to investigate the conditions of any dog that I call about. He always calls me to give me his opinion concerning the dog's condition and its care. He is always polite and prompt. He is also responsible for more than dogs. Once he told me that he had to remove chickens from a premisesa because of poor care. He also is responsible for a large area and its kept animals. It is, in my mind, a difficult job. But most of all, every time we have spoken, I have come away with a strong sense that he deeply cares for animals.
However, as I re-read point A from above and ask how a bowl of frozen water can satisfy the definition of providing a sufficient quantity of water, I am puzzled.
Also, when a young dog, or any animal, is on a short chain every day and night, I wonder how those conditions can provide "adequate exercise?"
As I re-read point B from above, I ask how a plastic doghouse with only rags in it can provide "adequate protection and shelter from the weather" especially when it is as cold as it was Monday night - about a low of 5 degrees.
As I re-read the county code, I am struck by the word "adequate," and think that it is too ambiguous. Perhaps the county code could be revised to make a stronger statement as to what is and is not acceptable care of domestic animals.
As it is written, the definition of "adequate" is left up to mean almost anything. If a plastic doghouse with rags meets the definition of "adequate protection and shelter," then I suggest that any condition is one that could be argued for. By using such ambiguous language, the county code, it seems, makes it difficult to find an owner in violation.
It does not have to be this way. The yellow puppy should be better kept. I wish it belonged to another neighbor who took the trouble to build an insulated dog house for his animals and placed it in a barn. He also has an electric warmer in the water dish to keep the water flowing. He or his son or wife plays with both dogs every day. This, in my mind, is being a responsible owner.
Perhaps the elected leaders of the county could change the code for animal welfare and give it more definition. I suggest that it even prohibit keeping a dog or cat (I saw this once) chained all the time. Is it too much for us to protect and care for what we have been given? After all, if we do not take care of such a gift, what will we care for? Perhaps a stronger worded code would help the dog warden in doing his job. We could try.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.