Before a packed Commission chambers, more than 75 people spoke over the course of two and half hours on Durham County's proposed animal tethering ordinance Monday night, the overwhelming majority in favor of it. County Commissioners took no action on the legislation, but will likely finalize language at the Sept. 2 work session, beginning at 1 p.m. Commissioners are then expected to schedule it for a vote at a regular meeting this fall.
The ordinance, which would be more stringent than the current law, would ban continuous, unattended tethering outside except under limited circumstances, such as if the animals are actively herding livestock, engaged in hunting or sporting events, or undergoing training or medical treatment.
The ordinance would become effective 15 months after adoption and would include a year-long public outreach and education program, followed by a three-month grace period during which animal control officers would issue only warnings.
Proponents of the ordinance reiterated horror stories of dogs strangled on their tethers, necks festered and maggot-ridden from embedded chains, unwanted litters borne by female dogs who, while chained, were impregnated by passing males.
"You as a board can decrease animal suffering," said Mark Soloman of Durham, a neuropsychologist. "Dog emotions are not much different from human emotions, based on what we know. They know what it's like to be tethered."
Opponents of the proposed ordinance, including Andrea Press of Wilmington, say that tethering, when done humanely, is appropriate. They contend that poor and middle-class families cannot afford fencing and that the Coalition to Unchain Animals, which has built fences and helped de-tether 100 animals in Durham County, cannot help everyone who needs it.
Ed McBride of Durham said that an amended ordinance is unnecessary and that the county should enforce existing rules.
However, Meredith Barthelemy noted that current law is insufficient and recounted instances of dogs choking or smothering their puppies because their chains were short—but within the law. With the new law, "there is no gray area," she said. "They're chained or they're not."
In addition, New Hanover County animal control officials sent a letter to the Commission, stating their jurisdiction has a similar ordinance. "You cannot enforce what you don't have," the letter read. "De-tethering is the right step in responsible pet ownership."
Last April, several pit bull owners challenged the ordinance, but New Hanover County Commissioners upheld it.
Rodney Marshall of Durham was a pit bull breeder who met with the Coalition to Unchain Dogs so that he could get a fence for his animals instead of tethering them. "I have seen spectacular results. Slavery is over; take the chains off the dogs."
Durham resident John Hanselman told the Commission he favors the ordinance—so he can get some sleep. His neighbor's tethered dog barks during the night. "You know Son of Sam, he went around and killed people because of the barking dog," Hansel said, presumably as a joke. "Well I'm at that point."
Read a previous story on tethering, published Aug. 13.