PENDER COUNTY — A month after a dog attack turned fatal, Pender County has implemented new ordinances for pet owners.
Hampstead resident Richard Catley approached Pender commissioners Tuesday, remembering his wife, Melanie, in a plea to make the changes.
“On Feb. 10 of next year, it would be my wife and I’s 53rd wedding anniversary,” he said. “However, we won’t make that because my wife was killed by dogs in December.”
On one of her daily strolls last month, Melanie was attacked by two dogs who were chained up in a yard belonging to neighbors she frequently visited. The incident left her in critical condition and she died in the ICU Dec. 14. The dogs were euthanized and the owner was not charged.
Commissioners unanimously passed updated rules and regulations to its animal control ordinance this week, though Richard pleaded for even further restrictions. Previously, the ordinance did not define shelter or have standards for tethering. Now, it spells out acceptable enclosures for animals when outdoors and puts protections in place for dogs who are tied up.
It has added a “humane tethering” clause to ensure chained animals have plenty of room to move, can access water, shelter and shade, and that ropes are a minimum of 10 feet. Also, the material being used to hold the animal must not exceed 10% of the dog’s weight for its safety.
“In most of this state, animal control does not allow dogs to be staked out and there’s a good reason for that,” Richard explained at the meeting.
New Hanover County does not allow outdoor tethering; Brunswick County updated its ordinance in 2018 to include restrictions for tethering to include 10 feet of movement and additional standards that keep dogs safe from being tangled or injured when tied up.
“When you stake a dog out, and attach it with a chain, tie it up, the dog has a feeling of vulnerability and it can no longer protect itself if attacked,” Richard continued. “It makes it easier to make the dog vicious.”
Commissioner Fred McCoy was the first to speak about the ordinance change, agreeing with Richard.
“We have a problem with having dogs being tied up,” he said at the meeting. “I see what it does to them. … It’s really important we protect our animals; we’re moving in the right direction.”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, dogs are naturally social, and long-term restraint can “severely damage their psychological and physical well-being.”
The organization also notes tethering animals is a “high-risk factor” for serious dog bites and attacks, and animals tethered for long periods can become highly aggressive.
Pender County health director Carolyn Moser told commissioners prior to Covid-19, an animal shelter committee and the sheriff’s office collaborated on tackling public concerns and complaints over tethering dogs and providing appropriate structures for outdoor animals to reside.
“[We heard] it sometimes went on for days,” Moser said. “With no access to food or water or shelter.”
As a result, the additions to the ordinance now define “shelter” as having three sides, a roof and a floor. It also requires the enclosure to be dry, ventilated and supply sufficient room for the animal to move freely and lie down.
The update spells out what is not considered shelter, including inside or under vehicles, metal barrels, cardboard boxes, transport cages or airline crates.
“Over the years we’ve had issues with people putting blocks up and plywood over it and calling it shelter,” Lt. Keith Ramsey, who oversees Pender’s animal control division, told Port City Daily. “You may put a cardboard box out there and say it’s shelter and technically you’re right — but you’re wrong.”
Ramsey said he presented a request months ago to refine the ordinance.
“It fell on the back burner,” he said.
The swearing in of a new board in December brought the issue back to the forefront.
Because there weren’t specific parameters on what was acceptable as a shelter for animals, deputies didn’t “have a leg to stand on” and struggled to hold people accountable, according to Ramsey.
He clarified improperly treated animals are not an overwhelming concern or a common occurrence. Yet, as noted Tuesday, deputies are taught to offer a warning before issuing citations.
“We go out there and educate people first,” Ramsey told PCD. “A lot of people just don’t know or think about it the way we do. When we bring it to their attention, they’re like, ‘I’ll get right on this.’”
To be sure, an officer doubles back three days later to check on the property and confirm the issues have been resolved. If they have not been, the individual could be fined a $50 civil citation. After six days from the issuance, if the individual does not pay, the animal will become property of Pender County.
The updated ordinance was sent to Sheriff Alan Cutler for approval before commissioners approved it Tuesday.
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