Animal supporters speak on animal abuse ordinance

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No more shooting dogs

By Stan Welch

Anderson County Council continued to tweak and amend its animal abuse ordinance Tuesday night, as several dozen animal lovers gathered to both support and critique those efforts.

Based on an incident earlier this year which resulted in a wounded dog suffering for almost three weeks after being shot by its owner, District Four Councilman Tom Allen took the lead on the amendment and modification of the ordinance. The main change to the ordinance essentially requires the owner of any dog planning to put the animal down to take it to a licensed veterinarian to have the euthanasia performed.

The owner of the dog, Amari, who was shot and left to die went uncharged due to the manner in which the ordinance was written; a circumstance which inflamed the animal lovers in the county.

It was made clear by several of those who spoke during the public hearing that the issue is a bit broader than that, however. Several of the speakers raised the question of law the sheriff’s commitment to enforcing the existing laws.

Heidi Wagner, who operates an animal rescue in the area, referred to what she called the sheriff’s refusal to do anything about dog fighting in the county; while political gadfly and dog rescue operator Elizabeth Fant went so far as to credit animal activists with helping to defeat Sheriff Skipper in the June primaries.

“I’m looking forward to having a sheriff who is more dog supportive”, said Fant, who also stressed the importance of neutering and spaying as a means of reducing the stream of abandoned or unwanted animals through the county shelter.

After everyone had spoken during the public hearing, Councilman Allen offered some remarks. He began by telling those present that he would welcome their ideas on how to strengthen the ordinance and close what many of them called loopholes.

“Send me your ideas, but don’t bother with glittering general terms. That doesn’t stand up in a court of law, and that’s where these cases will end up. So be specific in your language. But also remember that people, humans, have rights too. They have a right to defend themselves against aggressive or dangerous animals.”

Wagner had stated earlier that she was concerned that people would use rabies as an excuse to shoot dogs.

Among the “loopholes” are provisions for dangerous, aggressive, destructive or rabid dogs.

Allen addressed those as well. “We can’t expect people to wait until they have been bitten, gone to the emergency room, received treatment and gotten proper documentation before they defend themselves.”

One speaker referred to the county’s actions on the issue of puppy mills three years ago.

Allen acknowledged that the question of puppy mills had been an impetus for the Council to begin reviewing and updating its animal abuse ordinances.

“Other matters took precedence for awhile, and that went to the back burner. But this incident has brought it back to the center of attention. We have been working on this, and there is more work to be done,” Allen said.

District 7 Councilwoman Cindy Wilson pointed out that the county council is a legislative and budgetary body, with virtually no law enforcement responsibilities or authority.

“We cannot make any law enforcement agency do anything. We can pass the laws , and fund the various agencies. But we need law enforcement, the Solicitor’s Office and the magistrates working on this,” Wilson said. “We spend about $1.2 million a year on the shelter’s operations, and seventy five thousand dollars a year on our low cost spay and neuter program. Actually, most of us also allocate money from our individual accounts as well. “

Chairman Tommy Dunn pointed out that some provisions of state law actually handcuff local authorities in writing such ordinances, since those ordinances have to comply with state law.

“This is an ongoing process, but we are determined to address these problems. The ordinance, after several amendments intended to strengthen the language used, received second reading approval.”