Revised Animal Ordinance Is Far-Reaching
From exotic pets to domestic cats gone wild, the revision of the Moore County Animal Control Ordinance addresses almost every issue raised by the public and animal interest groups.
The proposed ordinance, the work of a special revision committee, will be the subject of a public hearing during the Monday meeting of the Moore County Board of Commissioners. The meeting will begin at 4 p.m. in the historic courthouse in downtown Carthage.
"The thrust of the ordinance is correcting the behavior of irresponsible animal owners," said Al Carter, director of the Moore County Animal Control Program. Animal Control is an arm of the public health department.
For the first time, the ordinance contains an entire section devoted to equine concerns. It also contains a section referring to the handling of feral cat colonies, and language covering the keeping of nonnative animals has been refined.
The revisions do not include provisions for leash laws and pet licensure, issues that generate the greatest protest from the general public.
"The committee felt that those types of laws could serve as a hardship for responsible pet owners but have little effect on irresponsible people," Carter said.
In the past, proposals to levy a tax or require a license for each pet have met with bitter protest from the public, as well as from hunters, breeders and others who own or maintain large numbers of animals. Objections to such provisions have been so hearty that they have hampered previous attempts to update the ordinance, despite strong support from animal welfare organizations and county officials concerned about the growing cost of maintaining the animal shelter.
The sections drawing opposition in recent weeks pertain to the handling of feral cats and a prohibition of trapping within 1,000 feet of a rural residence where domestic animals might run loose -- except with permission of the property owner.
County Commissioner Jimmy Melton formed the committee and guided its members through the intricacies of state law, county practicality and common sense. Mary Jo Morris chaired the committee, and Carter served as facilitator. Deputy County Attorney Brenda White served as legal adviser. County Manager Cary McSwain was a committee member and provided insight on financial issues.
The committee met every other week from late January until late summer. Members reviewed the wording of each section of the existing ordinance and reached consensus on most additions, deletions and changes. Meetings were open to the public and a period was set aside for public comment during each meeting.
On a number of issues the proposed ordinance clarifies requirements with fresh language and tightens others already on the books.
The section on animal cruelty has been enlarged with specifications about tethering and size of enclosures for pets.
One section addresses the confinement of an animal in a motor vehicle in a public place in weather conditions that could endanger the animal. Another section prohibits the sale or giving away of baby chicks or rabbits as pets or novelties, and it is unlawful to dye baby chickens and rabbits.
Among the regulations that affect residents who take in stray dogs and cats is a requirement that they notify Animal Control within 72 hours after the animal comes into their possession. This will allow Animal Control to determine if the stray is the pet of someone who has reported the animal missing and wants it back.
Drivers who accidentally injure or kill a domestic animal are asked to inform the animal's owner or, if the owner cannot be found, to contact local law enforcement or animal control officers about the accident. This is not a requirement, and there is no penalty attached if the driver does not comply. The exception is the case in which the injury or death is inflicted as a result of deliberate cruelty.
The ordinance reenforces a number of state laws. State statutes have required rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats for a number of years. The ordinance requires that all dogs and cats receive the rabies vaccination at age four months or older and all equines at age six months or older. Tags showing proof of vaccination must be attached to dog collars, but collars are not required for cats and equines. Owners of cats and equines must keep proof of vaccination and must be ready to produce such proof when requested.
Spay/neuter procedures are mandatory for any organization, group or entity offering animals for adoption in Moore County.
This has long been the rule for the county-operated animal shelter and for such groups as the Humane Society and Animal Advocates, but the ordinance is now written to apply to any other group that may offer adoption service, even on a part-time or occasional basis in the county.
Anyone who has a dog for security or patrol purposes is required to secure a permit from the Health Department before acquiring the animal. A permit is also required before anyone can legally collect dogs and cats for resale.
The equine section is largely the work of Dr. Tom Daniel, a veterinarian and a committee member. This section covers shelter, fencing, food and water, and health care, the latter ranging from hoof care to deworming to disposal of the body if euthanization is needed.
"We get calls all the time about horses," Carter said. "A horse has been left out in a pasture without a tree break or other shelter in severe heat or stormy weather."
Attention to this problem became acute earlier in the year when animal control officers raided a local farm and impounded a large number of horses and other animals that had been seriously neglected with inadequate food and health care.
On another occasion horses were found wandering down a rural road, their owner apparently abandoning them, probably because of inability to afford proper food and care.
Carter said the sluggish economy in recent months appears to be at the root of many of these problems involving horses. Moore County has hundreds of horse farms of varying sizes.
Nondomestic animals with the potential of endangering individuals or property are prohibited. The exception is the legally permitted circus or petting zoo.
Wolves and coyotes are also nondomestic animals, but they are mentioned in a separate section prohibiting possession of these animals and also prohibiting possession of hybrids of either breed, unless they are permitted by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.
The definition of a domestic animal has been expanded in the ordinance. In addition to dogs, cats, equines, sheep, cattle, goats, hogs, and poultry, such animals as ferrets, llamas, and emus have been added.
An exotic animal is defined as "any living animal, which is strikingly or excitingly different or unusual and not ordinarily kept as a pet or domesticated animal." Examples are lions, tigers, apes, monkeys, poisonous reptiles and poisonous spiders, or a hybrid.
There is a separate definition for an exotic mammal, which is designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture or other national or state public health protection agency as "embargoed or prohibited under legal protection orders." An exotic reptile is any reptile not native to North Carolina.
A new section on feral cats was included at the request of individuals and groups that have been involved in efforts to control their proliferation.
Feral cats are descendants of cats that were abandoned or lost and have become acclimated to the wild. They usually retain some features of the domestic background but are rarely able to be tamed as domestic pets.
Although feral cats do not normally make good pets, many colonies of feral cats receive attention from people who sympathize with their plight but do not want them to continue to breed. Many caregivers of feral cat colonies subscribe to the TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) practice, which means that they trap feral cats, have them neutered, then release them into the wild. This practice usually includes providing rabies vaccinations.
Although the ordinance does not specifically recommend this procedure, it does include a section in which caregivers of feral cat colonies are to neuter adult cats, vaccinate them against rabies, notch the left ear of vaccinated cats and manage the health of the colony.
It also says animal control officers will notify the caregiver prior to removal of feral cats, and the caregiver will be given time to resolve the complaint. Before a feral cat with a notched ear is euthanized, Animal Control is required to notify the caregiver.
An exception to this requirement is spelled out in another section that allows the immediate humane death of any animal without identification that is badly injured or diseased, a situation in which the animal is suffering and will probably die.
Opponents of this provision complain that feral cats kill songbirds and other wild animals and can also spread rabies because it is difficult to keep their vaccinations up to date.
The trapping provisions are relatively brief. Prohibited is the setting of such traps as leg hold, soft leg hold, offset leg hold, conibear and spring wire within a residential community or within 1,000 feet of a rural residence where domestic animals might be running loose, unless the trapper has the property owner's permission. Another section prohibits the willful trapping of domestic pets with the exception of live, humane traps.
Opponents say that trapping is controlled by the State Wildlife Commission and thus does not fall within the legal purview of counties.
Animal Cruelty Provisions
In addition to emphasis on protection of human beings, the ordinance contains lengthy provisions prohibiting cruelty to animals, including a thorough listing of practices that are cruel and neglectful. Such behavior applies both to owners and to people who are temporary caretakers of animals.
Other provisions deal with vicious animals and those creating a nuisance.
Pet owners whose animals are impounded after they are picked up while running at large will face penalties and expenses if they want their pets back. These expenses include payment for microchipping if the animal has not been microchipped and for spaying or neutering if the animal has not already been sterilized, along with fees for daily boarding costs. A third violation can mean a $75 fine.
The ordinance requires Animal Control to keep the animal for at least seven days while "exhaustive measures" are taken to reunite the animal with its owner. If the owner does not claim the animal, then it may be subject to adoption by another person or to euthanasia.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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