Frost started with some statistics. Overall, they were pretty good. Buncombe County was the first in the state to enact a leash law and to require pets to be spayed and neutered. The Humane Alliance’s intake numbers are way down, and its release rates are high. But that isn’t good enough. Frost indicated there should be zero tolerance for animal abuse and neglect.
Following a “vivid” and “graphic” film clip of neglected animals Frost and others said people drive past every day, Zach McTaggart, from the Asheville Police Department’s Animal Services Unit, introduced Zero. Frost said she liked the phrase, “Zero is a hero,” because the dog had sprung back from neglect. Frost hoped the ordinance would bring closer to its end an age where people consider it appropriate to chain animals and/or keep them in pens.
The ordinance already threatened owners with civil penalties if they deprived their pets of food, water, or “necessary” veterinary care; or kept them in cluttered or unsanitary living conditions. The changes would include in the definition of neglect failure to provide “social interaction” and “exercise.” In addition to negligence, other punishable crimes against animals in Buncombe County include habitually letting an animal run at large, unsafe transport of an animal, failing to report a collision between an animal and a motor vehicle, giving animals away as prizes, and changing an animal’s natural color.
When members of the public were allowed to speak, ChainFree Asheville dominated the forum. Patrick Irwin reviewed the group’s position that chains make animals aggressive, and so its volunteers are willing to build a free fence for anybody who can’t afford to take a dog off a tethered leash. A blurb on ChainFree’s web site describes the problem. “We have seen cases of dogs giving birth on the chain, dogs severely disabled to the point they could not walk, dogs starving, dogs with chains embedded in their necks, dogs with ground down teeth, dogs with infections from parasites, dogs with feces all over them, dogs who cowered as they became more and more broken, dogs with aggressive attitudes, dogs who only want to be loved.”
The amendment would change the minimum tether length allowed from 10 to 15 feet, but the ChainFree folks didn’t think that was enough. They wanted language to make tethering illegal as it is in Asheville. Representatives from other local animal advocacy groups expressed disappointment that nobody asked their opinions about the proposed changes, nor did anybody even give them a clue that an amendment was in process.
They learned about the amendment in time for the meeting, just as two hunters, who said they love and care for their dogs even though they keep them on chains, found out the ChainFree folks would be making a pitch at the meeting. What intel pipelines didn’t uncover was that Brownie Newman had prepared an amendment to the amendment.
Commissioner Mike Fryar complained. He said it happened all the time, and it was high time it stopped. It was wrong to post ordinances online informing the public about what was on the table, and then pull a changeup and vote on something else. The practice, Fryar argued, left members of the public clueless. Newman disagreed. It is perfectly consistent with the commissioners’ rules and procedures, and those of practically all governing bodies, to amend proposals. He just, for purposes of clarity and efficiency, presented his in print.
That may have been OK, but what Fryar said wasn’t, was Newman working with the county attorney to craft his personal amendments. At Fryar’s prompting, members of the board said they would be happy to come up with a firm policy then and there, but there were already two motions on the floor with an assortment of amendments pending to various degrees. The puppy lovefest was becoming a meeting about meetings.
Newcomer Miranda DeBruhl had questions about whether compliance would be effective immediately. It was, after all, winter, and the county was enduring a long spell of wind chill advisories. Actions would be split along party lines with Republicans supporting the motion to table and Democrats favoring adoption of the ordinance with Newman’s amendment. DeBruhl also wanted to postpone the vote to give the groups that had expressed interest a voice.
After faulting the Democrats for not taking DeBruhl’s requests seriously, Fryar offered his own amendment to strike the language about socialization and exercise. Neglect was obvious, but exercise and socialization are somewhat subjective. Dogs can even skip a day. Fryar asked, “What are you going to do? Station a deputy?” to spend the day watching an animal to make sure he gets walked.
When Fryar spoke on behalf of the coon dog hunters, a man in the chambers stood up and in a loud voice began, “I have a question. How is it humane to hunt? How do you say it’s humane to hunt?” Sheriff’s deputies helped him find the door.
Only Joe Belcher and Fryar supported an amendment to remove the touchy-feely ambiguities. The ordinance with Newman’s amendment was supported by the four Democrats on the board, but that doesn’t mean it passed. County Attorney Robert Deutsch explained the commissioners’ “Rules and Procedures” states that new ordinances shall be approved by a unanimous vote. Should it receive only a majority vote, it would require consideration at the next scheduled meeting.
Since the next meeting is going to be a special workshop on capital projects, the county will have to advertise the amendment on the agenda, and then reschedule its consideration. If the amended ordinance can get formal majority support within 100 days of its first hearing, it will become part of the county’s Code of Ordinances.