After five months of drafting and four public hearings, the changes to Walker County's Animal Care Ordinance are now in effect.
The changes include strengthened restrictions regarding public nuisances and cruelty to animals; allowing county residents to get three-year vaccinations for their pets, rather than vaccinations that must be repeated annually as previously required; and giving animal control officials the ability to apprehend roaming and dangerous dogs.
Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield adopted the ordinance during a commission meeting May 24, despite objection from residents who said they still weren't satisfied with the revised document for various reasons.
One such resident was Gina Dorsett, who called for the county to ban the tethering of animals or implement stricter regulations on the practice during an earlier public hearing in May.
Dorsett noted the revisions she suggested for the ordinance had not been included in the final revision, despite being well received by county officials. She reiterated the dangers of keeping dogs on tethers, citing research from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded that chained dogs were 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs.
"It's a public safety issue when dogs are on chains 24/7, 365 days a year," she said.
Whitfield agreed with Dorsett's concerns about the downsides of restraints, but also pointed out that some tethered animals receive appropriate care, adding that it is likely just "a small percentage" of chained animals that cause problems.
"In the community that we have now, if we were to say 'no tethering' or that you can only tether for three or four hours, we would probably have about a thousand people in here saying 'What are you doing?'" Whitfield said. " Maybe over time, [tighter restrictions] may happen, but this is a good first start to put in those guidelines and regulations for tethering that currently today don't exist at all in Walker County."
Another concern about the ordinance raised during the hearing was the number of animals it permits pet owners to breed. According to the document, it is "permissable for any household to breed and offer for sale up to thirty animals per year." One resident called the number "excessive" considering some area shelters, such as the Walker County Animal Shelter, are already at capacity.
County Attorney Matt Williamson said the ordinance was originally more restrictive in regards to breeding, explaining that county officials opted to loosen the restrictions in order to mirror state requirements outlined by the Georgia Department of Agriculture following public outcry. He said the decision was made based on the administration's "inclination of wanting to err on the side of respecting people's property rights and their rights to breed their animals."
Whitfield noted that the ordinance could be amended in the future as needed and thanked those who offered input throughout the drafting process.
"Any time you put an ordinance in place, they're never 100 percent perfect," he said, "but we've done our very best with public input to try to get these things as best we can."
The Animal Care Ordinance can be found online at walkercountyga.gov/government/ordinances.