A measure that generally makes the tethering of dogs illegal in Mount Airy goes into effect Monday, although its bark is expected to be worse than the bite at first.
“There is no tying of dogs anymore,” Police Chief Dale Watson said in summarizing an ordinance change to prohibit the practice of pets being restrained in outdoor areas by chains, wires or similar devices in the city limits — minus certain exemptions.
It came on the heels of action by Surry County officials in 2016 to implement a tethering ban in their jurisdiction. And in early September of this year, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to do so for the municipality, specifying that the animal welfare measure would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2018 to give citizens time to prepare.
That day is dawning and local officers are set to begin enforcing the amended ordinance aimed at preventing neglect and abuse of animals left exposed to harsh weather conditions for long periods without adequate shelter and access to food and water.
But this doesn’t mean police will be scouring city neighborhoods in search of offending pet owners, whom the police chief says are in the minority since most owners do take proper care of their animals.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem — it will be complaint-driven as well,” Watson said.
And for those who are in violation of the tethering ban, a grace period exists to allow them to achieve compliance.
The police chief explained that a “progressive enforcement” process will begin with verbal warnings, and then written warnings if the tethering situation continues. Further non-compliance subjects a dog owner to a citation for a Class 3 misdemeanor.
Penalties for violations can include impoundment of animals, with owners liable for the related costs.
“Voluntary compliance — that’s the objective,” said the police chief, who added that officers will work with offenders to make their pet conditions compliant.
Under the new regulations adopted for the city, lawful tethering can include cable trolley systems whereby the length of a cable along which a tethering device can move is at least 10 feet. The tethering device also must be of a length that allows a dog to move 15 feet away from the cable perpendicularly.
A tethering device must be attached in a manner that prevents strangulation or other injury to a dog and entanglements with objects. Tethers are to be made of rope, twine, cord or similar material with a swivel on one end, or a chain at least 10 feet long with swivels on both ends, and may not exceed 10 percent of the dog’s body weight.
All collars and harnesses must be made of nylon or leather, with buckle-type collars and body harnesses prescribed.
The use of chains or wires to tether a dog to head harnesses, choke-type collars or pronged collars is prohibited.
The animal may not be restrained in a manner that prevents access to food, water or shelter.
Chief Watson pointed out that dog owners can apply for exemptions to the new tethering measure.
There are about 10 different exemptions in all, which include camping or other recreational situations in which tethering is required by the facility involved; use of a dog at training or performance events at which tethering occurs on a short-term basis; during the cultivation of agricultural products in which such restraining is “reasonably necessary” for the safety of the dog; and others.
Owners can apply for an exemption to the tethering rules, leading to a determination as to whether it will be deemed acceptable, according to Watson.
He said citizens should be reminded of the overall purpose of the measure:
“It’s just the welfare of our animals that this is designed for,” Watson said of the need to prevent harm to creatures which can’t care for themselves.
Most owners ensure this on their own, the police chief reiterated.
“But there is a percentage of the population that should not have pets.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.