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Pasquotank OKs animal welfare ordinance

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Pasquotank County commissioners approved a new animal welfare ordinance Monday that some hunters claim reflects a “hidden agenda” against them.

Commissioners voted 6-1 for a new ordinance that allows animal control officers to issue notices, levy fines, and, if necessary, seize pets left in inhumane conditions.

Voting for the ordinance were board Chairman Cecil Perry and Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt, as well as Commissioners Jeff Dixon, Lloyd Griffin, Charles Jordan and Joe Winslow. Commissioner Frankie Meads cast the lone “no” vote.

Notably, Winslow voted against the ordinance as it originally was proposed, but said Monday he considered the new ordinance “the best we're going to get.”

Kim Parrish, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for Northeastern N.C., asked county officials for the ordinance about a year ago, telling commissioners that some dogs across the county are being subjected to cruel conditions. She said some dogs are left exposed to extreme temperatures, while others are not provided adequate food or water. Still other dogs are kept on excessively short or heavy tethers, she said.

To address those problems, county staff presented commissioners with a draft ordinance last month, but dog hunters and other citizens said they opposed it, calling the measure unnecessary and overly broad. They said it prohibited barrels and other plastic enclosures commonly used to house dogs.

Commissioners took the ordinance back to committee on June 29, made changes with input from hunters, as well as Sheriff Randy Cartwright and District Attorney Andrew Womble, and brought it back for a second vote Monday.

Despite the changes, Bobby Harris, president of the Albemarle Houndsmen Association, said his group still opposes the ordinance. Harris said the ordinance remains too restrictive, though he didn’t cite specific provisions he opposed.

Though he acknowledged the ordinance wasn't “meant for hunters completely,” he expressed concerns that animal welfare ordinances in Pasquotank and surrounding counties are being pushed by organizations opposed to hunting.

“One of the worst enemies we have as far as hunters is the Humane Society (of the United States),” Harris said. “They have stopped a lot of hunting in a lot of states. … It looks like there is a hidden agenda.”

Another hunter, John Morse, told commissioners the ordinance was “not produced in a vacuum” and that “there are deeper powers behind this type of legislation.” Morse said he’s a member of the Albemarle Houndsmen Association, the Southside Hunt Club and serves as chairman of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance.

Earl Rountree, of Sunbury, also spoke out against the ordinance, claiming “the PETA people are behind this,” referring to the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Rountree also said the ordinance would do “more harm than good,” claiming its restrictions on tethering and requirements to provide pets basic veterinary care would be burdensome for the elderly.

Dixon, however, urged fellow commissioners to adopt the ordinance. Existing state law on animal cruelty only allows animal control officers to intervene after animals have suffered extreme conditions, he said.

“We were told by both the sheriff and the district attorney that the state law is so vague, and it's to the point you can't remove an animal from a person's property unless the animal is already dead or almost dead,” he said.

The county's ordinance is intended to prevent animals from suffering from clear neglect — even from elderly owners no longer able to care for them, Dixon said.

Noting he owns acreage he allows hunters to use for free, Dixon claimed “I would be the last person in this room trying to push an ordinance against hunting.”

The county also made changes to the ordinance in response to public concerns last month, Dixon noted. For example, the ordinance allows keeping dogs in enclosed, rounded structures, such as plastic barrels, and allows the shelters to be at or below ground level, so long as they're kept free of mud and waste. Metal barrels remain banned, Dixon said.

Meads said he remained opposed to the ordinance, claiming an exisiting state law, General Statute 19A-46, authorizes magistrates to order an animal’s seizure, provided an animal cruelty investigator shows probable cause the animal is being cruelly treated and its immediate seizure is necessary.

In a followup interview Tuesday, Pasquotank Chief Magistrate Stephen Masters said his office has used that statute to issue custody orders over the years, often when there are signs an animal is malnourished or otherwise in distress. It’s even been used to break up dog-fighting rings, he said.

Asked if the statute could apply to an animal suffering from heat exposure, Masters said it might, if the animal appeared in distress.

In a followup interview Tuesday, Parrish thanked commissioners for approving the ordinance. She also said the Humane Society of the United States and PETA were not involved in the ordinance. The SPCA advocated for the ordinance after a dog died from exposure to the heat last summer in Gates County.

“It was totally SPCA-driven,” she said. “PETA and the Humane Society had nothing to do with it.”

She also said the SPCA does not oppose hunting.

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