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— Tethering dogs was on the agenda of Thursday’s Building and Property Code Enforcement Committee meeting, with new suggestions proposed for an ordinance to restrict the practice within Gentry city limits.

A proposed ordinance which would have made it unlawful to tether dogs to stationary objects was returned to the committee by the city council on Dec. 7 because of questions and ambiguities in the ordinance regarding the size of enclosures for animals and whether or not a dog could be tethered for a short period of time.

Committee member and councilman Kevin Johnston on Thursday proposed a number of changes to be incorporated into the ordinance before it is brought back to the council at its January meeting which would remove most of the ambiguity and make it easier to enforce.

Johnston suggested that the tethering of dogs be prohibited within the city limits except when the animal is attended by its owner or caretaker. He also suggested that outdoor confinements of adequate space be determined by standardizeddog sizes for breeds - using the largest breed in mixed-breed animals. For small dogs, 0-20 pounds, 50 square feet per animal would be required; for medium dogs, 20 to 100 pounds, 100 square feet per animal; and for large dogs, over 100 pounds; 150 square feet per animal would be required. Dog size and weight would be determined by breed rather than requiring the animal control officer to weigh each animal. The breed weight classification Johnston used was taken from and would be incorporated into the ordinance.

The changes would make it easier for the animal control officer to cite dog owners. If a dog is tethered or chained in a yard and no one is with the animal, the owner could be cited. If a dog, classified as medium, is found in a confinement less than 100 square feet in size, the owner could be cited.

“How long would you give dog owners to comply?” asked Gentry Mayor Wes Hogue, making mention of the difficult economic times and the possibility that a pet owner might not be able to afford to go out and purchase a fence.

Committee members recommended the ordinance should include an emergency clause and be put in place immediately, with a grace period in enforcement being no more than 30 days. Fines, if they are set by the ordinance, should be high enough to make sure people comply, committee members said.

Pet owners who do not wish to, or cannot afford to, put up a fence or purchase an enclosure, can always bring their dogs inside, committee members stated.

David Lockhart, of 208 McKinnon, has two dogs - a large and a small dog - chained in his yard next to shelters he has there for them. Lockhart doesn’t really have a back yard, since hishouse faces McKinnon and Railroad Avenue borders his property behind his home.

“I have lived here for 30 years,” Lockhart said, “and have never had a fence for my dogs. I don’t think it’s right,” he said of the proposed ordinance whichwould prohibit dog owners from tethering their dogs. “I don’t see the difference between putting a dog on a chain or in a 10-foot-by-10-foot enclosure, and I may need a permit to build anything bigger.”

Lockhart said he takes his dogs on regular runs and brings the small dog inside at night - the large dog remains outside. He said he was going to keep his dogs, even if he has to build pens to do so.

A 30 minute drive through a good number of the streets of Gentry on Monday, revealed very few tethered dogs in the city - at least which could be seen from the street - though some goats tethered to a tree could be seen in one back yard.

No mention was made of tethered goats in the proposed ordinance, so the keeping of goats on chains or cables may yet remain legal within city limits.

At the recommendation of the Property and Code Enforcement Committee in its November meeting, city attorney Jay Williams researched similar ordinances in other Arkansas municipalities and brought an ordinance to the council for consideration on Dec. 7 which would have made it a violation of city law to chain or tether a dog to a fixed object such as a dog house, tree or post for any period of time, with or without anyone present with the animal. The proposed ordinance would have also required persons owning dogs to keep them within an enclosure of sufficient height, size and strength to keep the animals restrained as well as of sufficient size to allow the animal “reasonable exercise and movement” within the enclosure. The ordinance would have required animal owners to post signs to warn persons of the possible presence of an animal if an electric or underground and invisible type of enclosure or fence is used.

At the Dec. 7 council meeting, councilwoman Janice Arnold moved to suspend the rules and read the ordinance by heading only. The motion received a second by councilwoman Janie Parks.

“People don’t want to see any tethered animals,” Parks said, adding that shehad received numerous complaints about animals being tied or chained up in yards. Though no specific details of the complaints were given, she did say two or three people have talked to her about it in the past two weeks.

“I think it makes them (dogs) mean,” Arnold said of tying up animals.

“It (keeping a tied dog on a chain or rope) also creates unsightly situations,” Parks said.

“I have a neighbor who takes very good care of his dog,” councilman Michael Crawford said, “but when he puts the dog out to do its business, he puts it on a chain.” Crawford said he didn’t view this as inhumane treatment of the animal but following existing law.

It was suggested by council members that a time limit be added to the ordinance, but Williams said if the ordinance limited the length of time a dog could be tethered to 30 minutes (as an example), the animal control officer would have to watch the tethered dog for the full 30 minutes before issuing a citation or the owner could claim the dog had been untethered and retethered during that time period.

“It’s either do it or don’t,” Williams said, explaining that an ordinance would either have to ban all tethering of dogs to stationary objects or not ban it at all.

“If we mandate no tethering, then people will have to build enclosures,” Mayor Wes Hogue stated at the Dec. 7 council meeting. “What size would be reasonable?” he asked.

Questions arose at the council meeting as to the size of an enclosure and what is sufficient, with suggestions of a 100 square feet per adult animal because of standard kennels sold in 10-by-10-foot dimensions.

Williams said he could include a minimum size for enclosures, but wanted the council to specify the size. He pointed out that an enclosure area based on animal weight would not work unless enforcement officers carried a scale to weigh animals before issuing citations, otherwise an owner could claim his dog weighed only 49 pound instead of 50 if a larger space was required for dogs 50 pounds and above.

“I don’t think this ordinance is going to accomplish what we want it to accomplish,” said councilman Kyle Jordan.

Councilman James Furgason said he didn’t favor people keeping their dogs on chains but also said he couldn’t vote for the ordinance as it was written. “It’s too ambiguous,” he said.

Furgason said he and his wife on occasion tie their dog to a tree while they are working in the yard, but they are always with it and do not leave it tethered and unattended. “We would be breaking the law (under the proposed ordinance),” he said.

Councilman Kevin Johnston suggested the council put off any decision on the ordinance for another month so that it could make a good decision and not a hasty one which needs to be amended.

Arnold and Parks withdrew their motion so that the ordinance could be further discussed by the Property and Code Enforcement Committee at its December meeting and a revised ordinance could be brought back to the council at its Jan. 4 meeting.

News, Pages 1 on 12/23/2009

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