Georgia's Walker County examines animal tether regulations

Georgia's Walker County examines animal tether regulations

May 21st, 2018 by Myron Madden in Local Regional News

A dog waits in the outdoor area of a kennel at the Walker County Animal Shelter. A volunteer from the shelter is advocating for stronger tether restrictions for the county.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

With the revision process for Walker County, Georgia'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 resident said she still is 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 on the tethering of animals.

Dorsett said she believes banning tethering altogether or having stricter regulations, such as a time limit for dogs to be chained — which Walker's revised ordinance now does not have — is a must. She presented photos at last week's public hearing to explain why.

"This is a dog — you probably can't even tell," Dorsett said of one photo. "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 of the latter proposal.

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 walker countyga.gov/government/ ordinances.

A second public hearing is being held Thursday at 6 p.m. before 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.

Contact Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com.