With the revision process for Walker County's animal ordinance winding down, many residents have given their thumbs up to the latest version of the draft, published earlier this month. But one local says she is still waiting to see tighter restrictions on tethering.
For the last two years, Gina Dorsett has been among others in Georgia fighting for tether regulations to be implemented statewide. Georgia is one of 28 U.S. states with no laws regarding the tethering of animals.
Walker County tether guidelines, as seen in May 10 Animal Care Ordinance draft.
Animals may only be tethered under the following circumstances:
(1) A person restraining an animal with a tether shall attach the tether to a properly fitting collar or harness worn by the animal. A person may not use choke collars, pinch collars, prong collars or similar devices, nor may a person wrap a tether directly around an animal’s neck;
(2) A person may not restrain an animal with a tether in a manner that does not allow the animal to access necessary shelter and water, including shade, when the temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit;
(3) The length of the tether should be no less than five times the length of the animal, measured from the tip of the animal’s nose to the base of its tail. In any event, a person may not restrain an animal with a tether less than ten feet in length;
(4) The animal must be tethered in a safe manner and not in a fashion that subjects the animal to tangling and choking risks; and
(5) A person restraining an animal with a tether shall ensure that the area in which the animal is confined is free of garbage, fecal matter, or other debris that can cause harm to the animal.
Dorsett said she believes banning tethering altogether or instating stricter regulations, like a time limit for dogs to be chained — which Walker's revised ordinance currently does not have — is a must. She presented photos during last week's public hearing to explain why.
"This is a dog — you probably can't even tell," Dorsett said. "It's so twisted and tied up on the tether from the wires, it has died. It strangled itself to death."
Dorsett, who regularly volunteers at the Walker County Animal Shelter and Chattanooga's McKamey Animal Center, said she doesn't want to see the same thing happen to more dogs in Walker. She added that leaving dogs chained up also puts others, especially children, at risk, as the animals are unable to tell the difference between friend and foe when tied up with no chance to learn to socialize.
"That's the kind of cases that happen," she said. "People get a dog and they put it on a tether and they forget about it a lot of times. If we don't put some stipulations and rules, it's going to be the same story."
One of the guidelines in the county's latest revision of the animal ordinance prohibits owners from restraining animals "in a manner that does not allow the animal to access necessary shelter and water, including shade, when the temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit."
Dorsett, however, said the draft overlooked factors such as severe weather conditions, citing freezing temperatures and harsh winds.
"I still see these dogs and they have nothing but a plastic house, and half the time it's knocked over," she said.
Dorsett also suggested officials specify what constitutes an adequate amount of food and water to be placed within reach.
Based on the feedback, Commissioner Shannon Whitfield said county officials will "definitely" take time to examine the ordinance's tethering regulations to see how they can improve safety for animals.
"This type of treatment is not going to be acceptable in our community going forward," he told residents during the public hearing.
Still, county representatives added that they do not have the legal authority to institute a number of Dorsett's suggestions. They pointed specifically to her appeal for immunity to be granted to those who break animals out of hot cars, as well as her suggestion of taking dogs away from owners convicted of domestic abuse.
"People have the right to due process," County Attorney Matt Williamson said in regards to the latter.
County officials said a revised version of the animal ordinance will be available online this week. Once published, residents will be able to view the revised ordinance and provide feedback at walkercountyga.gov/government/ordinances.
A second public hearing is being held Thursday, May 24 at 6 p.m. preceding the regularly scheduled commission meeting, when Whitfield will have the option to adopt the ordinance if he so chooses. Commission meetings are held in the Walker County Courthouse Annex III building.
Email Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.