Marion County dogs can no longer be left unattended and tethered for extended periods of time.
The Marion County Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance 3 to 2 that will ban 24/7 unattended tethering of dogs. The April 1 vote resulted in the amendment of Chapter 4 of the Marion County Code of Ordinances. This chapter addresses animal control and enforcement.
Jaye Perrett, a former Marion County deputy sheriff in charge of the animal cruelty division, said it will be nearly impossible to enforce this ordinance.
“How are they going to know how long that dog has been on the chain?” Perrett said.
The ordinance allows for tethering for 30-minute increments. In addition, there is no limit on the number of times a dog can be tethered in a day.
Dogs tethered on agricultural and working farms are excluded from the ordinance.
First-time violators will receive a warning. Subsequent violations can result in fines up to $500. This fine is based on section 4-18 of the Marion County Code of Ordinances.
Many people who spoke were opposed to any periods of tethering. Greg Graham, the Ocala chief of police, said loopholes or time constraints will “water down” the ordinance.
Linda Norman, a board member for the Humane Society of Marion County, began fighting against tethering in 2011.
In October of 2013, the commission appointed a seven-member Blue Ribbon Task Force to determine the adequacy of the current laws. The task force presented its findings on Feb. 4, 2014.
“In the end, we agreed 6-1 on two things,” Norman said. “Twenty-four hour continuous tethering is inherently cruel and that there should be a ban on unattended tethering.”
The original task force proposal allowed for tethering if either the dog was in visible range of the owner or if it was temporarily tethered while the owner remained on the premises. The proposal also required the dog to be spayed or neutered.
Bruce Fishalow, the executive director of the Humane Society of Marion County and a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, said he thinks the proposal was circumstantial and subject to animal services’ individual opinions.
“This is an ordinance where it begs for discretion,” Fishalow said. “We don’t want to go after the little old lady who tethers her dog for a little while.”
The task force was told the board of commissioners would look over the proposal and submit questions and recommendations. Norman, who is also serving on the task force, said members heard nothing from the board.
On March 4, Commissioner David Moore motioned for a public hearing to discuss the issue. He was met with silence, and the motion failed.
Norman said the community was outraged because the commissioners ignored its own Blue Ribbon Task Force.
After seeing the push back, the commissioners assigned the county attorney to consider the task force’s proposal at the March 18 meeting.
Matthew Minter, the county attorney, suggested two changes to make the ordinance more enforceable: eliminating the spaying or neutering requirement and defining the term “temporary” as an hour and a half, allowing for half-hour breaks between tethering. The original task force proposal had not defined the period of time animals could be temporarily tethered for.
Kerry Crawford, the chairman of the task force, said he understood why Minter proposed the amendments.
“I presume that what he was trying to do was put a small enough time frame to define what temporary meant,” Crawford said. “He’s looking at it from a forcibility and legal stand point.”
Supporting materials from the April 1 meeting show how the spaying and neutering aspect of the ordinance remained unchanged. Section 4-15 of the Marion County Code of Ordinances mentions the county’s commitment to providing affordable spay/neuter services, as well as partnering with the humane society.
The passed ordinance also chose to limit the tethering period to 30 minutes instead of the 90 minutes suggested by Minter.
After the meeting, Crawford shared his thoughts about the potential effectiveness of this new ordinance.
“It remains to be seen; I just hope people don’t abuse it,” Crawford said.