Hillsborough's dog tethering ordinance still not tied down
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11/16/11 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough County Commissioners Ken Hagan, Mark Sharpe and Kevin Beckner (l-r) listen to public comment about tethering.


photo by Janelle Irwin

Hillsborough County Commissioners are still trying to figure out how to deal with dogs chained up outside. A proposed ordinance guided by Animal Services would outlaw tethering, with some exceptions.

The ordinance recommended by Animal Services addresses the many known cases of injured dogs as a result of being tethered for extended periods of time. But it does allow owners to tether their dog for up to 30-minutes every eight hours. Gregory Douglas is a Tampa attorney who represents governmental organizations that prosecute neglectful pet owners. He said areas with similar ordinances have a hard time making their cases stick.

“The biggest hurdle that a government has to get over in these actions is ambiguous statutes or statutes that are hard to prove. The ordinance that you are considering in the amendments there to regarding weight limitations, regarding 30-minute time limit and exempting agricultural land just makes no sense and it will lead to ambiguous discussions in court cases as well as failure to be able to prove anything in court based on the impossibility of ever finding a violation.”

The enforceability of the ordinance in the courts isn’t the only problem opponents will have if Animal Services gets its way. Barbara LaPresti read from a St. Pete Times editorial that supports an ordinance without exceptions.

“Commissioners also need to avoid watering down the ordinance with outrageous what-if's. The board should drop a loophole that allows dogs to be tethered for a 30-minute period every eight hours. When would the clock start — at the time code enforcement or animal control officers come to the house?”

Vivian Bacca is a long-time volunteer for an animal shelter she says doesn’t euthanize animals. She said the time restrictions on tethering are enforceable and important to protect responsible pet owners like her.

“There’s been a lot made about the 30-minute rule. Animal Services has always used sworn statements of witnesses in investigating abuse complaints. A sworn statement of a witness that they observed a dog tethered for more than 30-minutes is sufficient to act on the law. Animal Services does not be sitting outside, looking at dogs, timing them with their watch to make sure that the 30-minutes is complied for.”

Scott Bentley rescues dogs that have been injured, often as a result of tethering. He said a 100% anti-tethering ordinance is crucial to protecting dogs from abuse.

“It’s not to punish the people that are responsible and have been responsible; it’s to educate and stop the people that are not. We have one of the biggest pill problems in Florida. I’ve taken more dogs that are quote un-quote, guard dogs, and I can walk right up and take them. And they’re just left there for sometimes days at a time with no residents, but obvious drug house and it goes on constantly.”

Some advocates pointed out that the dogs aren’t the only ones who could be hurt by being chained outside. Suzanne Holiday said it’s a public safety threat.

“Dogs that are tethered become agitated with pent up energy that causes neurotic behaviors that often result in aggressive behaviors towards other animals and humans. I have also witnessed several of these pent up animals breaking free of these tethers no matter how strong and complex they were constructed. I myself am also participating in the rehabilitation of two dogs that were routinely and continually tethered and after a year and a half of constant training and attention, they are just now finally able to begin to safely integrate into the community and interact with other dogs and people.”

This topic nearly monopolized the 45-minute public comment portion of today’s Hillsborough County Commission meeting. Nine people spoke in support of a stricter ordinance than what is being proposed by animal control. Roy Davis was one of only two to ask Commissioners to pass the ordinance with exceptions, or not at all. Davis said the last thing the county needs is more regulations.

“I see in the newspaper, article after article of people who are abusing animals and I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the newspaper – this is not a scientific report – of someone who is over-tethering a dog. I’m sure that may happen and if it does happen, you have current rules and regulations and ordinances that will manage that situation.”

The interim director for Hillsborough Animal Services, Dick Bailey said their recommendations concerning tethering eliminate ambiguity while still allowing people to be responsible pet owners.

The recommendation from animal services also includes an exemption for agricultural land. The board is expected to re-visit the issue in a January meeting.

Listen to Wednesday's Last Call where callers weigh in on Hillsborough's proposed pet tethering ordinance

Here's our full WMNF News coverage of tethering

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