Tethering animals law upgraded

COVINGTON -- Newton County's animal control ordinance has been updated to include regulations on the manner in which dogs may be tethered.

The changes in the ordinance addressing tethering were approved unanimously by the Newton County Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting Tuesday night. The board tabled action on a proposal to license dogs and cats in the county and establish licensing fees, pending discussions with officials in the county's five municipalities. Commission Chairman Kathy Morgan stipulated that the issue be brought back before the board within 60 days.

Commissioner Tim Fleming, who made the motion to approve the ordinance changes, said the tethering issue was the primary impetus behind updating the ordinance, although there were other minor changes made to clarify definitions in the law. One other change requires animals determined to be vicious to be implanted with a microchip for identification.

Teri Key-Hoosen, director of Newton County Animal Control, said work on the ordinance changes began early this year.

"Over the prior year, we had quite a few citizens concerned about how animals are tethered," Key-Hoosen said. "Based on the popularity of this particular subject, we decided to go ahead and look at it and make some changes."

The ordinance now defines a tethered animal as one that is "attached to a stationary object by a chain, cable or similar device commonly used for the size and type of animal involved. The animal is not considered tethered when the animal is attached to a stationary object as long as the animal is attended at all times by its owner or custodian and is not a public nuisance."

The ordinance also defines conditions under which a dog may be tethered, including that adequate water, food and shelter must be available within the tethering area; the tethering area must be clear of debris or obstacles so that the tether does not become entangled; the tethering area allows for exercise and freedom of movement; the area must be maintained in a sanitary condition and provide access to dry ground.

In addition, the ordinance defines an acceptable tether, requires that only one dog be attached to a single tether, and prohibits the tethering of sick or injured dogs and dogs under 6 months of age unless the dog weighs more than 20 pounds.

Though Fleming supported changes in the animal control ordinance addressing tethering, he said he was not in favor of the proposal to license cats and dogs.

Under the proposed ordinance, licensing would create a central record of all vaccinated dogs and cats in Newton County and would facilitate the return of lost dogs and cats. The ordinance would require that the owner of an animal over 6 months of age apply for a license tag and provide proof that the animal had been vaccinated against rabies. Licenses would be required to be renewed annually.

Proposed license fees for spayed or neutered animals are $10 per animal for an original license obtained by July 31 and for all renewal licenses; $5 for an original license obtained on or after Aug. 1.

Fees would be higher for animals that have not been altered. The draft ordinance proposes a fee of $25 per animal for an original license obtained by July 31 and for all renewal licenses and $15 for an original license obtained on or after Aug. 1.

Fleming said the county will confer with other local officials to "see if that's the path we want to go down." The city of Porterdale already requires licensing of dogs and cats.

Fleming added that he is concerned about the costs of maintaining a database of licensed animals and for personnel required to carry out and enforce the program.

"All you're doing is adding what we are calling a fee, but we are basically taxing people for owning animals," he said.

Key-Hoosen said she would support the licensing of cats and dogs as a way to enforce rabies vaccinations.

"I think it's a good thing because I think it will help the county keep track of animals that are current on their rabies vaccinations," she said. "We certainly aren't going to be out there looking for violations on a regular basis."

Key-Hoosen said licensing would be checked when animal control officers are out on routine calls.

In addition, she said the county currently has a computer system that would be able to manage the record-keeping.