A proposed amendment to the neglect of companion animals section of the animal and fowls chapter of the City of Delaware’s codified ordinances took center stage during Monday’s City Council meeting as City Attorney Darren Shulman presented an updated draft of the measure.
“We already have a lot of the language (in the codified ordinances) to protect (animals) now, but this is a little bit more explicit and has a little bit more teeth,” Shulman said.
The primary changes proposed in the ordinance pertain to the tethering and sheltering of animals within the city.
The current ordinance mentions “restraints,” while the amendment seeks to change it to “tethers,” which would be defined as “a rope, chain, cord, dog run or pulley, or similar restraint for holding an animal in place that allows a radius in which the animal can move about.”
When an animal is chained, the ordinance states, the tether “must be of a sufficient length to allow reasonable freedom of movement without allowing the animal to leave the harborer’s property,” and the area must be clear of all potential entangling objects.
The section also states tethers must fit the animal correctly to prevent it from being injured or choked.
Council member Chris Jones, who introduced the idea of amending the ordinance a few months back after hearing concerns over the tethering of dogs from resident Shannon Roof, said he would still like to see mention of a time frame somewhere in the ordinance so that dogs aren’t tethered all day long.
He said while policing a potential time of the day when no tethering is allowed might not be feasible during the daytime, “a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. time frame with no tethering is a lot easier to enforce.”
Jones added that he understands the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. time frame needs to be tweaked somehow to allow people to tether their dogs for a bathroom break at night, but in the end, he just wants something in place to prevent dogs from being left unattended outside all night long.
He said when council holds its public meeting on the matter at 7:25 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 23 in council chambers, he expects several residents will also voice their support for a no-tethering time frame during the late evening and early morning hours.
“The decision to be made is do you think tethering is cruelty to animals?” Jones said. “I do. I’m not afraid to admit it or afraid to say it.”
Shulman added while there is no mention of prohibiting animals from being left tethered and unattended between the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., he believes it could be enforced if council elects to add the language to the current amendment or wait to address it at another time.
“The policy question is whether you want to go that far down that road (with the specific time frame),” he said. “If we want to take baby steps, we could do that.”
As for the enforcement of such a time frame as suggested by Jones, Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski said, “It really will be a complaint-driven issue.”
The current ordinance on the books states violation of the neglect of companion animals section is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $150 on first offense. A second offense within one year would result in a second-degree misdemeanor.
The amendment seeks to add a first-degree misdemeanor charge if “the companion animal experiences serious physical harm as a result of a violation of this section.”
Council member George Hellinger cautioned that council should really consider the ordinance being presented, noting not all dogs on a tether are being treated inhumanely.
“Our existing legislation that we have on the books today says you have to give your dogs care,” he said. “If we want to micromanage and say this specific thing, then you get to that point of potential overreach.”
Vice Mayor Kent Shafer agreed with Hellinger.
“It’s one thing to protect dogs from being abused,” Shafer said. “It’s another thing to have extreme overreach.”
The proposed changes to the ordinance, Shulman added, include detailed requirements for a shelter, which are similar to those imposed by the City of Cleveland.
“Some of the requirements are (the shelter) has to have walls and a roof to protect from the sun and the wind,” he said. “It has to have a floor so the dog isn’t on the dirt, and the floor has to be two inches off the ground to keep them from being in water if it’s raining.”
Joshua Keeran can be reached by email or at 740-413-0904.