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Hall gathering research about anti-tether law
Oakwoods passage of ordinance brings debate
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An anti-tethering ordinance passed this month by Oakwood has lent itself to discussion about a possible countywide ban on tethering.

“If you’re guilty of it, you can be fined up to $1,000 or 12 months in jail,” Oakwood Police Chief Randall Moon said. “That’s the maximum fine, which is standard with a municipal court anyway.”

The ordinance, banning “tethering of dogs as the primary means of restraint,” was approved by Oakwood City Council at its Dec. 9 meeting and mirrors Gainesville’s anti-tethering ordinance, which was established in 2007.

The issue is being pushed in front of the Hall County Board of Commissioners by resident Harriette Taylor, among others; groups spoke at both the November and December work sessions, imploring commissioners to approve a countywide ordinance against the practice.

While tethering opponents plead for a countywide ban, it doesn’t seem likely to be an issue for commissioners anytime soon.

“We’re not anywhere on it,” commission Chairman Richard Mecum said. “I’d be for it, but I’ve got to have two other votes for it, and I just don’t have it.”

District 4 Commissioner Jeff Stowe said at the Dec. 9 work session he’s working with Animal Control Director Mike Ledford to collect research on the issue. Stowe was unavailable for comment, but Ledford did say he “should have some recommendations soon,” although he declined further comment.

Taylor said she believes those recommendations will be in the form of a proposed ordinance, but Commissioners Craig Lutz and Scott Gibbs said they would be uncomfortable moving forward.

Lutz, who serves District 1, said a ban against tethering makes more sense for urban areas than agricultural areas.

“When we’re passing a law, it has to be applied equally to everybody,” he said. “In a more agricultural area, if you’ve got 300 acres and you want to keep a dog or your pet close to the house, tethering or a run might be the best way to do it.

“We already have some laws on the books as far as ensuring that dogs aren’t tangled and what have you,” Lutz added. “The people that I’ve talked to (in North Hall) say (tethering) is the most reasonable and economic way to keep a dog when they’re not around.”

For District 3 Commissioner Gibbs, it’s purely an economic issue.

“We’re just so stretched on personnel due to the economy,” he said. “Our courts are full, our animal control is running at capacity, and we just don’t have the money.”

District 2 Commissioner Billy Powell could not be reached for comment.

“Dogs are social creatures by nature,” Denise Funk said. Funk, a veterinarian at Animal Medical Care on Thompson Bridge Road, spoke in front of the commissioners at the December work session. “They need a certain amount of interaction and of exercise. When you tether a dog, you limit both of those.”

Tethering is tying an animal to a fixed object. The group is asking to require dog owners to contain dogs in a house, fenced area or other type of enclosure; it would prohibit restraining dogs by a tether unless being held by a person to control the animal.

Funk said tethering is linked to behavioral issues, notably aggression; a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states proper socialization reduces the risk of dog bites.

There are also medical concerns, as chained animals are often living in their own waste. Whipworms and hookworms are problems for tethered dogs, Funk said. She added she’s seen cases of dogs with chains embedded in their necks from owners who don’t switch collars as a young dog grows.

While Funk and Taylor said “animal control can’t do it all,” they said they believe a fine would deter most people from the practice. Taylor added it would alleviate work for animal control.

“In other communities ... it actually has saved the animal control officers from having to make multiple calls because a neighbor would call in that a chained dog was being neglected,” Taylor said. “The officer would get out there, and right now if a dog has food and water and some shelter, then it doesn’t qualify as neglect. So their hands are tied.

“If we have this ordinance in effect, then they can give them a warning, and if they don’t comply, (the officer) can certainly write them a ticket.”

Funk suggested an ordinance would also make people think before taking on the responsibility of animal ownership.

“A lot of people who get a puppy think they can tie him out in the yard as an easy option,” she said. “I think if people knew that was not going to be an option for them ... that might deter some people from getting a puppy who really don’t need a puppy.”

Back in Oakwood, Moon said he’s not quite sure yet how his department will enforce the new law.

“If I rode through Oakwood, I would probably find 30 to 50 residences that have dogs tethered,” he said. “Is that something we’re going to actively go after? I don’t know. I don’t have the direction of the council yet.”

He said it may be a situation where Oakwood police go after “complaint driven” cases.

It’s that ambiguity, along with the diverse needs of Hall County, that make commissioners say a countywide ordinance is unlikely anytime soon.

Mecum said the sheer scope of the county would make drafting an ordinance difficult.

“You have so many different parts of the county,” he said. “You’ve got some that’s very agrarian, and other (areas) that are pretty much urban. So it’s trying to come up with an ordinance that (is) one-size-fits-all.

“I think it could be done,” he added. “I’m just saying it would be difficult to get everybody in agreement to it.”