23 December, 2009

Why Kanawha County's Dog Tethering Ordinance is So Important

In This Issue of Higginbotham At Large:

- Update on Kanawha County Dog Tethering Ordinance

- Next Meeting of Drinking LIberally

Kanawha County Dog Tethering Ordinance Update:

Because I was at yesterday’s public hearing on the bear hunters’ request to exempt hunting dogs from the Kanawha County anti-tethering ordinance, several people have asked me for an update on the hearing.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that, in Kanawha County, dogs that are not classified as “hunting dogs” are protected by an ordinance that says their owners cannot tether them for periods exceeding 15 minutes, 4 times daily. Dog owners who violate this ordinance may receive stiff fines.

The bad news is that the hunters lawyered up, threatened to sue, and got their dogs exempted from the protections of the ordinance.

It was obvious from Kanawha County Commission President, Kent Carper’s, introductory remarks at the public hearing that the fix was in and that the commission was going to grant the hunters’ demand to exempt their dogs from the protections afforded other dogs and that the Kanawha Humane Society’s board, many of whom were in the room, had already agreed to the exemption.

Had the commission not allowed public comment, one would have gotten the impression that there were only two “sides” to the argument. On one side were the hunters who lawyered up and threatened legal challenges to the law. On the other “side” was the Humane Society board that caved in to the hunters’ demands and agreed to exclude “hunting dogs” from the protections of the anti-tethering law.

I would like to remind commissioners Carper, Hardy and Shores that Kanawha County taxpayers have never granted the Kanawha Humane Society board plenary and plenipotentiary powers to speak and decide for the rest of us yet Carper conducted the public hearing as if all that mattered was that the lawyer-rich hunters and the Humane Society board had reached an agreement and that the hunters promised not to be cruel to their dogs.

I believe Kent Carper when he says that if hunters are caught being cruel to their dogs they will be prosecuted – with or without the anti-tethering ordinance - but animal cruelty is hard to “prove” in a court of law so those of us who wish to report cruelty need as much legal specificity and inclusion as we can get. Laws that don’t define cruelty don’t really protect animals. An animal can be starved, beaten or deprived of water and shelter for days before humane officers can “prove” that cruelty took place. Laws that clearly spell out how long you can tether an animal, how often you have to provide water for your animal and what, exactly, constitutes shelter for an animal make the cruelty easier to observe and document. Those of us who have reported animal abuse know that vague, “I’ll know it when I see it” animal cruelty laws favor the abuser. That, Mr. Carper, is why observers and enforcers need specific, black and white, binary laws. You either provided your dog with legally-defined shelter or you didn’t. You either provided your dog with sufficient food and water as defined by law, or you didn’t.

And, Mr. Carper, the reason tethering and confinement laws, in particular, are so fundamental to prevention of cruelty to animals is because, unlike wild animals, tethered animals and confined animals can’t go somewhere in search of food, water, shelter or warmth. A “stray” cat can crawl up inside a car’s engine compartment to get warm. A tethered dog can’t. A wild squirrel or raccoon can seek shelter from the rain, water for its thirst or food for its hunger. A tethered dog can’t. A starving, dehydrated, shivering dog tethered to a stake in the ground is worse off than a stray dog because at least a stray dog might get lucky and be taken in by a loving human. When I was a teenager, a neglected neighborhood dog adopted my family. We had already taken him in as a stray before we learned from the mail man that our new pet was, in fact, a refugee from down the street who escaped from his abusers and found a better deal, an option the tethered dog doesn’t have.

I believe Mr. Carper is a fine public servant and, as I told some Huntington animal rights activists yesterday, I wish Kanawha County, West Virginia and the nation had thousands more progressive, fair and decent public servants just like him, but the next time Mr. Carper is tempted to broker a backroom deal concerning Kanawha County's animal protection laws, I hope he will remember that hunters and Humane Society board members aren't the only Kanawha County taxpayers with an interest in protecting animals.

My biggest take aways from yesterday's public hearing:

1. If you lawyer up and threaten to sue, the Kanawha Humane Society will back down. Kanawha County's dogs are lucky the hunter didn't demand that all dogs be exempted from the tethering ordinance.

2. People who want stronger, more meaningful and enforceable animal protection laws need to be prepared to hire lawyers because the "other side" will.

3. People who want stronger, more meaningful and enforceable animal protection laws need to be better organized, need to communicate with each other more and need to get a lot better at recruitment, at PR and at using social media.

There’s a great deal more I’d like to say about that public hearing and about animal protection laws but I’ll save some of my comments for another day. Huntington’s city council recently passed an anti-tethering ordinance and soon, I’m told, the same animal activists who demanded the city ordinance will ask the Cabell County Commission to pass a county-wide ordinance so I’m sure I’ll have more to say then.

Next Meeting of The Charleston, WV, Chapter of Drinking Liberally

If you are a liberal and you’d like to meet and network with other liberals, come join us at 5:30 PM, Thursday, 7 January at Bruno’s, 222 Leon Sullivan Way.

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