Council asks simpler, cheaper leash law

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 07:10 PM

The Indian Trail Town Council once again took up the subject of a proposed animal control ordinance at a Thursday special meeting.

The council was set to approve a draft animal control ordinance at a Jan. 8 meeting after residents complained the ordinance went too far. It would have required all pet owners to register their pets, allowed farm animals by permit only, outlawed certain types of "exotic" animals and set strict requirements for animal enclosures. Council members tabled the ordinance, saying they wanted a simple leash law.

Thursday, Councilman David Waddell said asked Sheriff Eddie Cathey if deputies assigned to Indian Trail could enforce an leash law.  He suggested the town pass an updated animal containment ordinance. To cover all areas of Indian Trail, two additional deputies, specialized equipment and a containment agreement would be needed, Waddell said. He estimated the annual cost to be about $185,000.

Councilwoman Darlene Luther said that cost is too high. In five years, the total for sheriff office service would be $1.1 million, she said. Waddell pointed out that the town would have two additional deputies to respond to general service calls. But that was too much for the implementation of just a leash law, Luther said.

"Why can't the deputies just enforce what the town needs to be enforced," Luther asked.

She asked Lt. Chase Coble why deputies provide animal control to Lake Park and Waxhaw without additional cost to the village but Indian Trail service would cost so much.

"I just think that's absurd," Luther said.

Enforcement in a small village like Lake Park is relatively easy because the population is only about 3,000 and one deputy can patrol by bicycle easily, Coble said.

Cost depends on what the town officials expect, Coble said. Many uncontained dogs run through Indian Trail neighborhoods. To be the primary enforcement for a town leash law, Coble said the town will have have to pay the sheriff's office for service. If they want to follow the county's leash law, enforcement will be more passive, Coble said.

"But you can't have it on the books and say we're sporadically going to enforce it," he said. "What's going to happen is, people are going to call you and expect it to be enforced and you've got to have a mechanism to do that."

Once a loose animal is picked up, deputies cannot keep them in a hot car for hours, Coble said. There needs to be a place to put them, either a local kennel or regular runs to the animal shelter.

"But I still don't understand why this has to cost taxpayers $1.1 million just to add a leash law to the town ordinances and have it enforced," Luther said. She proposed hiring a code enforcement employee who would also oversee the animal control program.

Nearby towns like Mint Hill contract with Mecklenburg County for service at the rate of about $103 per animal call, Coble said. He and Luther discussed if a registration and fine system would defray some of the cost. Coble pointed out that there is no guarantee residents will pay fines on time or at all.

Since Lake Park has two deputies for its population, Indian Trail's 21 deputies are about proportional, Luther said. She said she did not understand why deputes enforce Lake Park's ordinances, but the town council could not get Indian Trail deputies to enforce its ordinances.

"Oh, we've asked for years to enforce the municipal ordinances for here," Coble said. "We've been wanting for years to do something with your stuff."

Councilman Robert Allen said he was surprised that Waddell would propose spending over $1 million on animal enforcement, since he has so many Libertarian views. Allen also said that it seems a dog running loose without proper rabies tags would be a county issue that the sheriff's office should handle. The town just wants to add an employee to handle the civil side of its ordinance, Allen said.

The council needs a better handle on its expectation from a leash law, Mayor Pro Tem David Cohn said. There should be an ordinance in place to protect people from loose dogs roaming neighborhoods, Cohn said.

"I don't think we should be riding around looking for dogs," he said. "If we're going out looking for them, then that's a whole different thing."

Coble said deputies already respond to calls of aggressive dogs. They often arrive before animal control officers and have only a catch pole to subdue dogs, which could be deficient when dealing with large animals.

"I want everybody out there to know, even though there's no leash law, if there's an animal out there you're afraid of, call 911 and we'll come out," Coble said.

By the end of the meeting, the council asked town staff to write a leash law based on the one adopted by Lake Park and recognize the latest county animal control ordinances. The council would have deputies enforce the ordinance for a time to see if that service interfered with regular calls for service.