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County considers changes to Animal Control ordinance

Citizens weigh in on leash laws, vaccine requirements and shelter provisions

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Animal Services says the proposed changes are meant to better protect public health and safety and promote the general welfare of citizens and animals in the county. - PHOTO BY JON WAITS
  • Photo by jon Waits
  • Animal Services says the proposed changes are meant to better protect public health and safety and promote the general welfare of citizens and animals in the county.

LOCAL pet owners, dog breeders and veterinarians have plenty of questions about a proposed overhaul to Chatham County’s Animal Control Ordinance.

The new ordinance, which would repeal Articles 1-4 in Chapter 22 of the existing code, calls for clearer definitions of service animals, a three-year rabies tag instead of one year, the creation of a governing board, and the provision of spay/neuter services for animals that pose a safety threat.

The updated language brings the code into compliance with state law and Dept. of Agriculture regulations and removes duplicate restrictions already provided for within the general law. In some cases, it sets up stricter rules and new preventative measures, such as including cats in the prosecutable offense of abandoning animals and mandating property owners to fix fences to keep their pets contained.

“The state laws were reactive. This ordinance focuses on being proactive,” said assistant county attorney Jennifer Burns at a public meeting last week.

Burns explained that if adopted, the new ordinance would apply only the county’s unincorporated areas for now, with the intention of presenting it to each municipality one at a time.

Last summer, Chatham County Animal Control was transferred from the purview of the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department to its own entity and renamed Animal Services.

New director Kerry Sirevicius and County Manager Lee Smith met with community stakeholders to draft a new ordinance that would “protect the public health and safety of its citizens and to promote the general welfare of the citizens and animals residing within the County.”

The draft was introduced to the public and had a first reading at the county commissioner meeting on March 24. The commission will vote on whether to adopt the ordinance at a second reading on April 7.

No additional funding is needed to enact the proposed changes in addition the current budget.

About 30 people came to voice their feedback at the Civic Center Tuesday afternoon. The ordinance’s mandate not to release dogs and cats brought to the Sallie Mood animal shelter to their owners until they are microchipped and spayed or neutered was a major concern.

While show dogs and hunting hounds certified by the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club are exempt from the rule, local members of the Savannah Kennel Club expressed fears that historic bloodlines could be shut down if their dogs accidentally got out.

Sirevicius pointed out that most owners would find their way to the shelter within the five-day impoundment, though she promised that AKC-registered pups are protected.

“We’re going to define that better,” assured Sirevicius.

Joyce Whittal of the Savannah Kennel Club also asked for tougher enforcement of the existing leash law, which prohibits any dog or cat to run “at large or off leash despite the presence of its owner” within the unincorporated county.

“I’d like to see Animal Services be able to write tickets and earn some revenue,” said Whittal.

The new ordinance does allow Animal Services to collect more revenue via increased fees and fines, though many veterinarians spoke out against the mandate that they collect the payment to register vaccinated pets with the county, calling it “an unfair burden.”

“Veterinarians are supposed to collect the tax, maintain the tags and transfer that information to Animal Services, but this is not a medical concern,” said Dr. David Howes of Godley Station Animal Hospital in Pooler.

“What are we supposed to with an individual who doesn’t want to pay the fee? Are we supposed to enforce the law, too?”

Some attendees were just hearing about the revisions for the first time and came to seek clarification.

Boxer rescue activist Allison Lange Connor came to see if the new ordinance contains any language banning particular dog breeds, such as pit bulls, which it does not.

“We definitely do not want that,” said Connor, who paged carefully through the provided 37-page packet.

Others hoped to see more specific changes added to the proposed ordinance.

“I would like to see a temperature reading in the section about dogs left in parked cars,” said Carol Williamson of the advocacy group Speaking Loudly and Often for Animals.

“The law only says ‘dangerous temperatures,’ and that’s too ambiguous.”

The controversial topic of mandatory spaying or neutering is not included in the revised ordinance, nor is any provision to address the sales of puppies at local venues, which several attendees claimed are the products of inhumane puppy mills.

“Chatham County needs to be on the list of communities that have banned the retail sales of animals,” reiterated Williamson.

County staff said it will register the feedback and meet with more local veterinarians to make adjustments to the new code before it is presented back to the commission on Friday.

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