Animal ordinance set for second vote

WINNSBORO – After three years of handwringing over amendments to the county’s animal cruelty law, council is expected to have the second of three required readings Monday night on the matter. The proposed changes in the law are not going to be made public, however, until the agenda is released for Monday night’s council meeting, which by law does not have to be released until 24 hours prior to the meeting, according to County Council Chairman Billy Smith.

In an interview with The Voice, Smith said the amendments to the ordinance do not outlaw tethering altogether, but they do set some minimal guidelines to better protect animals and give law enforcement more guidance when responding to complaints. He said the amendments will also address housing, sustenance, transportation and punishment for those who abuse the ordinance.

Smith said the draft ordinance is still in the hands of the county’s attorney, Tommy Morgan.

“What we’re looking at on tethering is a minimum of 12 feet on length of tether and a weight limit of not more than 15 percent of the animal’s body weight,” Smith said.

While Smith said he thinks the use of a swing chain as a tether will be outlawed outright in the ordinance, the only other proposed restriction on tethering is that the tether must be connected to a swivel.

Smith said the amendments will also address appropriate housing and sustenance for animals and will call for limits on how long an animal can be confined while being transported.

Smith said the ‘up to’ dollar amount for fines is still being tweaked.

“As drafted, the maximum fine is $500,” Smith said.  I’d like to move that to $1,000, but I understand there may be some legal concern on that. I am working with our county attorney to try and better understand that.”

So would members of the Hoof and Paw Benevolent Society, who have been pressing council for years to update the 11-year-old ordinance. Smith said Hoof and Paw members had input into the ordinance.

“I think this ordinance is not going to be what we ultimately want for animals, but it is a step forward,” Hoof and Paw board member Kathy Faulk said. “I think it’s the best we can get right now. Like Billy, we would expect to see punishment up to $1,000. It must be enough to be a deterrent.”

Paula Spinale, also a member of Hoof and Paw, said she remains optimistic that the proposed ordinance will pass.

“There are so many dogs that are on chains 24/7 in this area,” Spinale said. “Somebody needs to help them.”

“County ordinances, by law, can’t penalize people to the extent state law can,” Smith said. “The state can charge with felonies, for example, and counties can only charge with misdemeanors.”

For more egregious crimes against animals, however, county officers can charge offenders under state laws such as ‘Ill Treatment of Animals.’

Council’s first reading last month of the amended ordinance was in title only, meaning council members voted on the measure without any formal discussion or making the ordinance public.

Public comments can be made on Monday evening. Speakers are allowed three minutes per person and the session is limited to 30 minutes.

County council meets at 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 26 at the County building, 350 Columbia Road, Winnsboro.