Dorchester County council sends animal control bill back to committee after public comment
CAMBRIDGE — Concerned citizens shared their thoughts on the dog care bill at the Tuesday meeting of the Dorchester County Council. In a congenial conversation, community members suggested bolstering the bill.
After the council entered legislative session, County Attorney E. Thomas Merryweather announced that the bill amends Chapter 78 of the Dorchester County Code called “Dog Control” to add a new section, 78-4, called “Animal Care.”
“It adds substantially more regulations and rules concerning the care of our dogs in the county,” Mr. Merryweather said. “This bill is the product of a study committee which was headed by the sheriff and several citizens, and this is the product of their investigations.”
The new chapter creates civil infractions for not properly caring for a dog. This includes providing water and food, adequate living space and shelter and veterinary care. The new chapter would make it illegal to leave a dog unattended in a hot or improperly ventilated vehicle. It also sets standards for the proper use of a collar and tether.
The code would be enforceable in all unincorporated areas in Dorchester County. Services provided in 78-4 are available to incorporated areas upon request, and subject to availability determined by the county council.
A number of community members asked if the bill addresses the issue of incessant barking, especially throughout the day or late at night.
Mr. Merryweather said barking is addressed in section 78-2 which states a dog will be considered a public nuisance “... when it is a danger to any person or when it engages in activities which disturb the peace and quiet of any neighborhood, including, but not limited to: excessive barking, whining or howling, chasing vehicles, attacking other domestic animals or damaging property.”
Cindy Smith, grant administrator for the county, and Patticarol Smith, a concerned citizen with experience in dog care, spoke at length about the legislation. They both politely offered suggestions to strengthen the bill.
“I want to thank you, Mr. President and members of the council, for the opportunity of letting us animal lovers speak this evening,” Ms. Patticarol said. “I understand how important it is to be very specific with things that you need to prosecute.”
Both Ms. Smiths raised concerns about the definition of unsafe weather conditions in section 78-2, “... when the temperature is below freezing or above 100 (degrees).” The ladies asked the council to consider changing the temperature limits.
The Smiths also suggested better defining acceptable standards for a dog house. They said a dog house should have four walls, a door with a flap, and be raised off the ground.
“If they’re sitting right on the ground, they’re frozen. They can freeze. The floors can freeze and that doesn’t protect the dog,” Ms. Cindy said.
Later, Ms. Patticarol cited codes in Cecil and Charles counties that require a dog house to be at least 2 inches off the ground. The Smiths also said that collars and their use must be better defined.
The Animal Care chapter in the bill states, “Neither chains, ropes, nor choke collars shall be accepted as collars for a tethered dog. There must be at least one-inch space between the dog’s neck and the collar.”
Ms. Cindy said use of a wire collar and neglect allegedly led to the death of a dog on Hooper’s Island, and wire is not banned in the new chapter. Ms. Patticarol cited Baltimore County code and suggested a collar should have a two-finger width from the neck of a dog and should be made of leather, nylon or plastic.
Ms. Cindy said she would like to see a better definition for how animal control officers handle cases of neglect, and record keeping that comes with those cases.
“There’s really nothing that references what happens when the officer determines that the dog is in a neglected situation,” Ms. Cindy said.
Ms. Patticarol said she has worked at animal hospitals and shelters through the years. She said dogs are often given away or sold at too young an age. Her biggest concern was properly tracking immunization records.
Ms. Patticarol said that codes in Baltimore, Charles and Cecil counties state that any transfer of an animal, given away or sold, must come with proper immunization papers as signed by a veterinarian. She said she understands tracking immunization records might be tough. However, lack of immunizations can potentially put other animals at risk, especially at shelters where close contact might spread disease.
After listening intently to the Smiths and others, the council members unanimously voted to defer the bill back to Sheriff James Phillips and his committee so that they might consider the suggestions heard at the council meeting.