Council backs rules for dog tethers

FRONT ROYAL – A split Town Council on Monday  nearly refused to join Warren County in approving new rules for protecting dogs.

Mayor Hollis Tharpe cast the tie-breaking vote to tentatively approve new rules for tethering and caring for dogs “and other canines.” The council must approve the ordinance on a second and final reading to put the new regulations into effect.

Vice Mayor Eugene Tewalt and Councilmen Gary Gillispie and William Sealock Jr. voted in favor of the tethering ordinance on its first reading. Councilmen John Connolly, Jacob Meza and Christopher Morrison voted against a motion to adopt the ordinance.

The new rules would require that the tether equal three times the length of the canine. The town would prohibit tethering when:

• The canine is 4 months old or younger.

• The dog is a female in heat.

• The temperature is less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit or greater than 90 degrees unless the dog has adequate shelter.

• The tie is used for more than one dog.

• The tether weighs more than 10 percent of the dog’s body weight.

• The tether is used more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period on a cable run or four hours in 24 hours on a fixed tie.

The ordinance goes beyond tethers to include regulations on the conditions a dog can remain outside, Meza said. The councilman commented that misinformation has circulated about the proposed ordinance compared to what the town has in place already to protect animals.

“The misrepresentation of the facts has caused people to be upset and concerned that, if the town does not adopt a stricter and more defined ordinance, dogs will continue to suffer horrendous acts of violence and gross … neglect, causing continual pain,” Meza said.

All animals remain protected under state and town code, Meza added, citing some of the relevant sections. Meza noted that in a discussion about the subject at an earlier work session he called animals “private property” only because the code section made the distinction.

State code also defines animal welfare and requires that owners provide adequate care, shelter, water, exercise and treatment, among other needs, Meza noted.

“So, to be clear, I’ve always supported current laws pertaining to the enforcement of animal cruelty and humane treatment of animals,” Meza said, “I’m just disappointed that people felt compelled to send me pictures of maimed animals, bloodied and starved dogs and lobby threats against my family, presumably because I wasn’t protecting abused animals if I voted against a more defined ordinance on animal cruelty.

“Frankly, threats against my family seemed awfully disingenuous coming from those who worry about cruelty inflicted upon animals by their owners,” Meza went on to say. “The problem is there are those who want the above code to be more proscriptive and take away the right of varying interpretations of the discretion of our animal control officers.”

Data collected by Meza showed the town and county issued 5,441 dog licenses in 2016. However, in the same year, the county and town received 28 complaints about possible animal cruelty – half of 1 percent of all animal owners – Meza said. The town and county had 5,617 dog licenses this year and 40 complaints, Meza said.

The councilman asked fellow members if the numbers show a unique circumstance that would compel them to create more laws governing dog owners and their “private property” as defined by state code. Meza warned that the council should not use its authority “haphazardly.”

Carol Vorous spoke during the public hearing on the proposed ordinance. Vorous first offered an apology to any council members who received inappropriate emails regarding the proposed ordinance, saying she would not condone such actions.

“The people that support my outreach and the things that I do within the county understand what’s at stake and they’re supportive and understand that we need to go about this in the right way,” Vorous said.

Dogs risk entanglement when tethered most of the time, Vorous said. Tethering also can increase aggression in some dogs, creating a danger to the community especially if the animal breaks free, she added.

Vorous told the council she receives referrals when a dog needs shelter or other care. Cases of possible neglect go to the Sheriff’s Office, she added.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors recently approved a similar ordinance. The  Sheriff’s Office handles animal control matters for the town.