Dog owners within the City of Delaware who leave their canines tethered while unattended for longer than 15 minutes during the late evening and early morning hours are now in violation of a city ordinance.

City Council on Monday, by a 6-1 vote (council member George Hellinger voted no), approved an ordinance amending the neglect of companion animals section of the animal and fowls chapter of the city’s codified ordinances.

Prior to approving the ordinance, council took a separate vote on whether or not to include in the measure an anti-tethering amendment.

Despite several members expressing concerns over the amendment, council approved adding it to the ordinance by a 5-2 vote (council members Kyle Rohrer and Hellinger voted no).

Under the new law, a companion animal can’t be left unattended and restrained by a tether outdoors in excess of 15 continuous minutes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The ordinance states a companion animal is considered unattended when “no owner or harborer is present and awake on the premises the companion animal is present.”

Council member Chris Jones, who along with resident Shannon Roof, fought hard for the anti-tethering measure, thanked council for its support on the matter.

He added while he would have liked to see no tethering allowed at all, prohibiting dogs from being chained up and unattended between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. will help law enforcement protect canines from being neglected by giving officers “ammunition to go on the premises to investigate further” issues like inadequate shelter, etc.

“It’s a little easier to see tethering as opposed to whether the inside of the dog house has a damp floor or it’s two inches off the ground,” Jones said.

Vice Mayor Kent Shafer, who initially questioned whether council was overreaching with the anti-tethering amendment by singling out dog owners who restrain their pets by a tether and not dog owners who leave their canine outdoors all night long but confined by other means like a fence, voted in favor of the amendment based on the “unattended” requirement.

“If the owner is home and awake, it doesn’t prohibit them from tying the dog up outside,” Shafer said. “We are not totally restricting people from tying their animal out provided they are paying attention to it.”

He added, the premise behind the anti-tethering amendment is to crack down on people not paying attention to their dogs.

Hellinger, who voted against both the amended neglect of companion animals ordinance and the anti-tethering amendment, said the prior ordinance on the books already prohibited owners from neglecting their dogs and allowing them to bark all night long.

“I don’t know what we gain,” he said. “I think we just enforce the laws that are there today.”

Despite council approving the amended ordinance, Hellinger said, enforcing it will remain a complaint-driven process as “we are not going to have our police officers going around looking for tethered dogs.”

Additional protections

City Attorney Darren Shulman said while the tethering amendment has drawn the most attention, the amended neglect of companion animals section of the animal and fowl chapter of the city’s general offenses code also “tightens up” other requirements like proper shelter, etc.

“We’ve tried to improve (the ordinance) so that it is a little bit more enforceable and understandable,” he said.

Shulman said when it comes to adequate shelter for outside dogs, the ordinance states the animal must have a suitable place to escape from the elements that is made of durable material, at least two inches off the ground, dry, sanitary, and of suitable size.

The ordinance, he said, also mentions tethers must be of suitable size to prevent injury to the dog; the dog must have reasonable space for movement that is free of mud, standing water, and fecal matter; food and water must be clean and of sufficient quantity; and the owner of the animal must provide reasonable veterinary care.

Violators of the neglect of companion animals section face a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $150 on first offense, while a second offense within one year results in a second-degree misdemeanor charge.

The amended version of the ordinance includes a first-degree misdemeanor charge if “the companion animal experiences serious physical harm as a result of a violation of this section.”

By Joshua Keeran

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Contact Joshua Keeran at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @KeeranGazette.