Town considers draft of leash law

Dec. 12, 2012 @ 06:55 PM

The Indian Trail Town Council discussed a draft leash law during a Tuesday meeting, but will not adopt it until the town attorney has more time to review the document.

Town Manager Joe Fivas presented the draft leash ordinance written by the Public Safety Committee. It is based on a similar one passed by the Waxhaw Town Council after the January 2011 mauling death of 5-year-old Makayla Woodard.

The town has an animal control ordinance that was first adopted in 1989 . It will be replaced by the new law, an animal enforcement ordinance. It will supplement the county's animal control ordinance. Fivas said the draft ordinance was written to agree with the county's ordinance.

The draft is imperfect, Fivas said, and there are areas that will need later revision.

"This is a building block that we'll be building on for a while," Fivas said.

It requires animal owners to keep animals on their own property and to restrain animals when out in public. Owners will be expected to control their animals. Dangerous dogs will not be allowed inside town limits. The ordinance defines a dangerous dog as one that hurts or is aggressive toward humans and other animals.

Exotic, wild and farm animals will not be allowed inside town limits. It will allow ownership of chickens and goats by permit only.

To enforce the ordinance, Fivas said the town needs an animal enforcement officer to administer the program. This employee would also be responsible for other town tasks, such as code enforcement.

It will also restrict town residents to a combination of six animals per acre of land, with an exemption for breeders and rescue groups. Fivas said all currently owned animals will be grandfathered in so no resident will be required to give away one or more animals to comply. All outside pets, excluding cats, are required to be kept on pens, runs or inside invisible or electric barriers.

The ordiance also creates a pet licensing program so the town is aware of who owns what animals. Licensed animals will be issued an identification tag. That way, if a dog or cat is found wandering, it can be returned to its owner instead of taken to the Union County Animal Shelter, Fivas said. Licenses will be available for a fee. Certain animal owners, such as those with service dogs, will be exempt from the fee.

The ordinance also defines animal abuse as beating, neglecting or otherwise causing harm to the animal.

Violating the ordinance will incur a penalty of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and so on until the fifth offense, when the owner is fined $500 and the animal is taken from them.

Town Attorney Keith Merritt advised the council to postpone approval. He said he received the draft only the day before, and noted some language that would require some research on his part.

During public comments, resident Maureen McCarthy, owner of Love and Kisses Pet Sitting, said she worries about dogs running loose. They can attack people or other dogs, be attacked or be hit by vehicles.

"I have crossed paths with loose dogs while walking a client's dog," McCarthy said.

She explained a situation when she was caring for Sam, a recued dog that was aggressive toward other dogs. One day while walking Sam, McCarthy said he began fighting with a larger, unrestrained dog. Thankfully, she and the other dog's owner got the two animals under control. But without another person there to grab the larger dog's collar, she might not have seperated the dogs before they or she were seriously hurt.

Loose dogs also pose threats to family pets. McCarthy said she has a 5-foot fence to enclose her three dogs, but loose dogs come by and harass them.