County beefing up animal cruelty and tethering laws

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By Travis Jenkins

Following complaints from animal welfare advocates, Chester County is moving forward with changes to beef up its animal cruelty and tethering ordinances.

In November, Karen Brown from the York County Humane Society spoke on the topic before Chester County Council.  She noted that a number of counties (some which neighbor Chester) and municipalities have adopted standards that are stricter than the state’s laws, which Chester has not. She said that has led to a lot of animal neglect, including an incident that got national attention involving a pit bill that choked itself on its own tether as it tried to crawl toward shade in the searing summer heat. She and Alicha Schwartz of Project Safe Pet said that was, unfortunately, not an isolated case locally. They showed pictures, taken recently near Great Falls, of small dogs shackled to dilapidated dog houses or to trees with heavy logging chains. The dogs did not have access to fresh, clean water.

Schwartz touted the benefits Chester would reap from beefed-up tethering ordinances. She said it leads to better general health and welfare for animals, which usually means fewer animals having to go to the animal shelter. It also makes a less welcoming environment for dog fighters and “hog doggers,” who often chain packs of dogs up using logging chains and have them fight for food and water to “toughen them up for fighting.” She said the mere appearance of chained-up dogs in an area can actually have a negative impact on property values.

Schwartz said Chester’s ordinance is essentially a word-for-word reprint of state law, which is extremely broad; to the point that the dogs in the pictures they provided were said by law enforcement to be in allowable conditions. She said it should be clear that dogs should not be held by excessively heavy chains, that they either be on a pivot that allows 360 degree movement or a trolley line, that they have access to shelter and water and that female dogs that haven’t been spayed not be tethered at all.

When the council met last Monday, they briefly reviewed an amended ordinance. It reads, in part that “no owner, possessor or person having the charge or custody of any animal shall fail to provide sufficient wholesome food, clean, fresh water; proper shelter and protection from the weather, veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering; and humane treatment.”

The amended ordinance further states that animals must be provided a clean shelter and living area, “free of accumulated waste and debris” so that the animal can walk or lie down without coming into contact with debris.

The ordinance gives guidelines for what sort of shelter animals should be provided with, which includes a structure “appropriately sized for the animal to stand or lie in a normal manner.” The structure must adequately protect animals from harsh weather, must have a roof and four sides, with an opening.

As for tethering, new guidelines are laid out there as well. Tethering outdoors is prohibited unless the animal is at least six-months-old (puppies may not be tethered) and the animal is in visual range of the responsible party. Animals can’t be tethered more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period and can’t be tethered at all from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Tethers will have to be connected to the animal with a buckle-type collar or a body harness made of nylon or leather, not less than one inch in width. The tether itself must be at least 12-feet long, have a swivel at both ends, may not be made of chain and the weight of the tether may not exceed 10 percent of the animal’s body weight. Even if tethered, animals must have access to food, water and shelter and they can’t be tethered if they are sick. “Direct point” tethering is strictly prohibited, as trolley lines must be used. Violators can incur fines of up to $500.

No one voiced any opposition to the new ordinance, but Councilman Pete Wilson said a few things needed to be clarified.

“We need to make it clear in the ordinance this does not apply to farm livestock. We need to clarify that in here,” he said.

He said there were a few other areas that needed to be tightened up a bit so that the county didn’t end up with an ordinance “it is incapable of enforcing.” Councilman Alex Oliphant said spaying and neutering needs to be encouraged as much as possible.

“If not, you keep creating the problem of puppies that are not being taken care of,” he said.

The first reading, with a few noted changes pending, passed unanimously.