Board hears request for rules protecting dogs from cold

FRONT ROYAL – A town woman wants Warren County to give authorities power to make dog owners keep their pets out of the cold.

Carol Vorous recently asked the Warren County Board of Supervisors to consider creating an ordinance aimed at protecting dogs during extreme weather. Vorous spoke to the board at its meeting and work session this week. She has yet to speak to town officials about a similar proposal.

“If they have that dog chained out 24 hours a day, seven days a week in all kinds of weather and animal control is called and they go out and see that it’s living in a camper shell with a dirt floor and, you know, exposed to the elements, there’s nothing that can be done,” Vorous told supervisors Tuesday.

Vorous started All Dogs Matter, a community outreach organization for dogs, about 2½ years ago. She explained that people contact her about potential problems and she visits the owners and asks if they want assistance. Most of the time, she said, it’s for inadequate doghouses, dogs on chains or on clotheslines cords wrapped around trees.

“It’s quite a bit more than I was ever aware of,” Vorous said.

Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox asked Vorous if calls typically came from neighbors. She said she receives calls from passersby and people who live close by.

Warren County Sheriff’s Deputy Junior Darr told the board the agency receives calls from Vorous, prompting authorities to check on dogs and to see if they have adequate shelter.

“A lot of the situations she calls in are true,” Darr said.

County Attorney Dan Whitten said his research showed some localities have looked into such an ordinance.

“The problem is every dog breed is different – what a husky can tolerate a Chihuahua is different – so it’s hard to write an ordinance that encompasses all those different breeds,” Whitten said. “Even a reasonable-person standard it would be hard to say, ‘well how much straw does this dog need?'”

Some localities regulate tethering by ordinance, Whitten said. However, localities – at least counties – don’t appear to regulate at what temperature should dog owners bring their animals inside and out of extreme weather, he added.

Fox asked if animal control officers can pursue animal cruelty charges against an owner in some cases. Darr said officers can seize an animal that appears in distress and charge the owner, but such a charge would only stick in cases of extreme weather and if the temperature appeared to cause the distress. Such cases are rare, he noted, in response to a question from Vorous.

Officers usually try to educate an owner on animal care before they start pressing charges, Darr said. In response to a question from North River District Supervisor Daniel J. Murray Jr., Darr said the majority of the calls are follow-ups to cases.

During cold weather, officers have found water frozen in bowls, Darr said. Some owners have purchased electric bowls that keep water warm. Vorous said she’s not referring to the dog owners who care enough to buy heated bowls.

“Yes, we do have different breeds,” Vorous said. “But there should be a way to come up with something that takes care of the dogs that are pretty much lawn ornaments and I know a lot of people in this county have the mentality that ‘it’s my dog; I’ll do what I want with it.’

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com