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Durham Commissioners pass tethering ordinance

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By a 4-1 vote, Durham County Commissioners Monday night passed several amendments to a local ordinance that outlaws the unattended tethering of dogs, effective Jan. 1, 2010.

Commissioner Lewis Cheek was the sole no vote, stating, "I still haven't heard anything that makes this ordinance necessary."

For two years, the county's Animal Control Advisory Board has weighed and honed the amendments, which redefine "tethering" and "secure enclosure" and establish an educational campaign and grace period for county residents to comply with the new law. Only warnings will be issued from Jan. 1 to June 1, 2010.

Tethering is defined as tying out or fastening a dog outdoors on a rope, chain or other kind of line; it does not include putting a dog on an attended leash. The amendments also cover physical space requirements for outdoor enclosures, such as pens: Dogs less than 20 pounds must have no less than 100 square feet of unobstructed space per animal, not including a dog house; dogs more than 20 pounds must have no less than 200 square feet.

At an emotional public hearing Aug. 25, nearly 75 citizens spoke, the overwhelming majority in favor of the ordinance.

More than 15 people spoke at Monday's public hearing, including several opponents who contended the ordinance would result in people who cannot afford fences or pens setting their dogs loose.

"It's a pitiful world when other people determine your lifestyle," said a former Durham resident who now lives in Orange County, where a similar ordinance has languished in the face of public opposition.

Durham County Animal Control Director Cindy Bailey said the majority of animal cruelty cases she has seen resulted from tethering. She told the commission of a recent case in which six dogs were removed from their owners, who were subsequently convicted on animal cruelty charges. "They were all chained," she said of the dogs. "And they had injuries consistent with being chained. The problem has not gone away. No matter how much we work with individuals before we prosecute. We educate until it's absurd and people aren't working with us at all. We have to have different rules to play by."

The Commission has also asked local nonprofit animal groups to raise funds to help purchase fences for animals whose owners who cannot afford them. The Coalition to Unchain Dogs already has built fences for more than 100 animals.

In other business, the campaign to pass the public referendum on the 1 percent prepared foods tax has begun. Dubbed "The Taste for Durham's Future," the public relations effort is supported by many elected officials, including the Commission and Durham Mayor Bill Bell.

This fall, Durham voters will decide whether to approve a 1 percent tax on prepared meals and beverages. The additional revenue is expected to generate millions of dollars for cultural amenities, including a Minor League Baseball museum. Several citizens groups, including the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, are opposing the hike, saying it will hurt low-income residents, many of whom can't afford the increase or the cultural amenities the hike will subsidize.

A 37-member steering committee has set a goal of $45,000 to conduct the campaign, which will include mailers sent to 120,000 Durham County voters.

A kickoff to drum up support for the ballot measure is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 16, from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St.

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