County considers tethering ordinance

Published 6:11 pm Thursday, August 31, 2017

On Thursday, the Troup County Board of Commissioners reviewed information regarding the progress of the City of LaGrange’s tethering ordinance. The city’s tethering ordinance was put in place in 2015, and the county is now considering a similar ordinance after receiving a written petition with over 400 signatures from county residents. There is also an online petition with about 500 signatures.

If a tethering ordinance is created within the county, it would likely focus on points tied to dog abuse cases. Representatives from the LaGrange Police Department and LaGrange-Troup County Animal Control spoke on the impact of the city ordinance. Both were sensitive to financial concerns of pet owners, but emphasized the potential for the ordinance to protect the health of dogs and assist officers in identifying and stopping animal abuse.

“The primary focus of this was that you could ride into those communities in many different residences and see a dog tied single-point connection from a chain or rope or some sort of leash tied to a tree or a stake in the ground, with very little space to move around,” said Capt. Mike Pheil of the LaGrange Police Department Patrol Division. “All indications from just looking at the dirt was that these are not short-term issues or detentions of a dog. We think that the dogs are there for excessive periods of time.”

According to Pheil, the LaGrange Police Department was initially cautious about the city ordinance because of concerns for enforcement and government overreach. Those concerns have weighed heavily on the commissioners who have been asked to consider a tethering ordinance previously, so they were interested to hear about the reception and enforcement at the city level.

“One of our first positions on this was that we did not want to go too hard on governmental control, but in developing this ordinance, we did want to really push and encourage these dog owners to think about how they are detaining or how they are keeping their animals, especially when they are outside,” Pheil said.

The ordinance in the City of LaGrange prohibits hitching a dog to a single point like a stake or a tree, but allows for trolley systems, shock collar systems and fences. Under the ordinance, fences for dogs are required to be 100 square feet per dog under 20 pounds and 200 square feet for each dog over 20 pounds. According to Pheil, officers have made a point of working with pet owners who have trouble meeting the requirements or were not aware of the ordinance.

“If we can identify a problem and work with a homeowner, a dog owner for one, two, three weeks to get them to come into compliance, and if it is clear that they are trying to make an effort to get to that point, then we’ll give them that time, not issue a ticket and bring them to court,” Pheil said. “Ultimately, we just want them to comply and provide a better quality of life for animals.”

Groups like Paws 4 Chainge and Fences for Fido were referenced as possible options for citizens hoping to come into compliance with the current city ordinance and any future county tethering ordinance.

“We do try to go out into the community with different options, like Captain Pheil said,” said Chris Bussey, LaGrange-Troup County Animal Control supervisor. “Fences for Fido has a grant where we have supplied 10 families with trolley systems throughout the community that needed help and couldn’t afford a fence, and we use that grant to get a trolley system put up.”

Tethering systems are estimated to cost around $40, but the cost could still add up for those who own multiple dogs, especially those considering fencing.

“If a person has 10 hunting dogs then that is 100 square feet per dog,” Chief Marshall Lonza Edmondson said.

However, animal control noted that it does simplify the process of checking on dogs who could be abused.

“It has been helpful as far as making cases for cruelty,” Bussey said. “When we are able to check on a dog when they are already on a chain, it gives us more authority to be able to go check on an animal.”

The county has recently started a new initiative to train officers to better recognize signs of animal abuse.

“Over the past year, I’m glad to report that Chief Edmondson has been working on education of his animal control officers,” said Dexter Wells, division director of public services. “All officers have been trained by ACT, which is Animal Control Training services. Classes include understanding the link in animal abuse and investigative techniques for cruelty and neglect complaints, interview and investigative techniques for other animal safety topics. We believe that training our officers to recognize the warning signs of abuse are instrumental in stopping animal cruelty.”

Concerns were expressed during the meeting for dog owners who use single point tethering for limited periods of time, like during barbecues, and for older residents tethering house dogs for brief periods to allow the dogs to have outside time. The impact of a tethering ordinance for owners of multiple hunting dogs was also brought up during the meeting, though that point was not discussed in depth.

Because of all the factors involved in considering an ordinance related to chaining, the board of commissioners decided to further discuss the proposed ordinance at its next work session on Sept. 14. The next meeting of the Troup County Board of Commissioners will be on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at 100 Ridley Ave.