City to tweak dog law

Council to clarify when and how long dogs can be tethered outside

BUCKHANNON — How cold is too cold and how hot is too hot to leave a domesticated animal tied up outside?

Buckhannon City Council will attempt to answer that question when it votes on the first reading of Ordinance No. 424 at its next meeting, Tuesday, May 15. Council’s regular meeting Thursday, May 17, was moved to Tuesday due to a conflict with West Virginia Strawberry Festival events.

At the last council meeting on Thursday, May 3, Mayor David McCauley said city attorney Tom O’Neill revised the city’s Animal Care and Control ordinance — Ordinance No. 397 — to establish more specific guidelines for police officers to decided what constitutes “cruelly” chaining, tethering or confining an animal outside. The ordinance describes a number of scenarios in which tethering is not permitted; for instance, residents can’t tie a dog up for more than 10 hours outside and the leash or tether must be appropriately attached to a well-fitting collar.

O’Neill presented a draft of the ordinance, saying he was asking for feedback on the changed language.

“There was concern brought up by officer (Sgt.) Tom Posey that Ordinance 397 was a little vague about the standards by which a tethering would be considered ‘cruelly chained, tethered or confined’ outside,” O’Neill said. “That’s the prohibition, you cannot ‘cruelly, chain, tether or confine outside’ any animal and so that is a rather vague standard, I agree with officer Posey’s take on that … It could be constitutionally vague if someone were to be cited under the ordinance.”

“The meat of what it would do is add a subsection B to section 2 of the ordinance,” O’Neill added.

The amended ordinance bans the tethering of dogs/domesticated animals “under conditions which present a reasonable likelihood of serious injury of death,” according to a copy of the draft. Those conditions now include an outdoor temperature below freezing, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and above 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Domesticated animals also can’t be tethered when flooding is an imminent possibility or when the U.S. National Weather Service issues a severe thunderstorm warning, tornado warning or winter storm warning for the city of Buckhannon.

“It’s not up for first reading tonight,” O’Neill said. “The purpose of this is to solicit input about whether this language is acceptable, whether you’d like to see if modified in anticipation of having an ordinance prepared for first reading next meeting.”

Elissa Mills, a member of the city’s Animal Care and Control Board, explained how the idea for an ordinance surfaced.

“We ran into a situation during the coldest part of the winter where there was a dog down on [a city street] and the police were called back multiple times within in a two- and three-day period, and the argument [from the dog’s owner or caretaker] was, ‘well, according to who? What’s severe weather?’ So, it was like we need to give it some teeth.”

McCauley said the Animal Care and Control Commission had unanimously recommended the city make the changes. 

“The Animal Care and Control Commission unanimously agreed to recommend to this [ordinance change] to council,” the mayor said. “It came from folks that want to look after our furry friends.”

According to O’Neill punishment for violating the ordinance is a fine of up to $500 or up to 30 days in jail.

Councilwoman Pam Cuppari made a motion for O’Neill to ready the ordinance for first reading at the May 15 meeting, which was seconded by councilwoman Mary Albaugh prior to passing unanimously.

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