Friday, January 13, 2012

Pit bulls left out of tighter animal code

Update stiffens breeding rules, jacks up fines

By Erica Mitrano, from South Maryland Newspapers Online

A contentious revision of Charles County animal control laws ended quietly Tuesday, when the county commissioners unanimously approved a version that increases fines and more tightly regulates some animal breeding.

The adopted rules do not single out pit bull-type dogs for special restrictions, a proposal that infuriated dog lovers last year.

Animal Control Chief Ed Tucker persisted in recommending mandatory cat licensing in the animal control ordinance despite pleas by feral cat advocates that the measure would lead to strays being killed unnecessarily. While some arguments against “managed colonies” of feral cats were overblown — for instance, very few cats carry rabies — “no domestic animals should be exempted from the regulations,” Tucker said.

While the lives of outdoor felines being cared for by responsible cat lovers are important, “the right of county residents not to be bothered by free-roaming cats is a matter of equal importance,” he said.

Tucker said the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Hughesville already works with feral cat lovers to return cats with notched ears — the sign that the animal is part of a known colony — but that, ultimately, cats not reclaimed or adopted will be put down.

The commissioners praised Tucker for navigating the demands of passionate interest groups.

“You guys have really struck a balance between public safety or public nuisance and recognizing the rights of pet owners, too. I know it’s been an arduous task. You seem to have included all of the opinions,” Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) said.

The final version, which was endorsed by the Humane Society of Charles County, is the first revision to the ordinance since 2006.

Among the changes are new standards for the treatment of outdoor animals, including new requirements for space, shelter and shade; a restriction limiting outdoor tethering to four hours at a time; and a prohibition on tethering with a collar or harness primarily made of metal.

The new law also maintains a “dangerous animal” designation imposed by another jurisdiction if the animal moves to Charles County.

Lying to an animal control officer or hiding an animal under investigation from the authorities became offenses, while increases to a raft of animal-related fees were made, including raising the fine for interfering with an animal control officer from $50 to $250 and the maximum fine for animal cruelty from $500 to $1,000.

It also introduced what Tucker previously deemed an anti-hoarding measure, an annual license for an “animal fancier,” defined as someone who keeps at least 10 animals in a location for purposes other than breeding, boarding or livestock husbandry. The rule also gives the county grounds to supervise people who have many animals that the county suspects, but cannot prove, are being bred, Tucker said. An annual inspection would be required.

The rules don’t affect very small-scale breeding, like someone “breeding the family dog,” he said.

Other revisions would ban the sale or possession of exotic animals including poisonous snakes, monkeys and apes; wolves and wolf-dog hybrids; wildcats weighing more than 30 pounds; and wild animals including skunks, raccoons and bears, bringing county regulations in line with state law, according to a previous presentation by Tucker.

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