YORK COUNTY, S.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - Animal activists and at least one councilman agree on one thing - a 2012 law regarding chaining dogs needs to be cleared up.
"It doesn't say it's illegal and it doesn't say it's permitted," York County Councilman William "Bump" Roddey said. "So one could argue either way. It depends which side of the fence you fall on."
Roddey thought he voted in 2012 to allow dog chaining with some conditions: the chain had to be connected to a collar, be at least 10 feet long, allow a full range of movement and access to food, shelter and water.
Read the ordinance here (Title V, Chapter 55, Section 19; 55.19).
Seven years after the law was passed, new questions are now being raised. Last month, Animal Control took a second look at the ordinance. Now, Roddey says, the county manager's office is telling him that chaining is illegal. The ordinance allows tethering but does not specifically mention the use of chains as a restraint.
The ordinance does say: "use of a chain, choke, or pinch collar as a primary collar is prohibited."
"Either we lied to the citizens as to what would be permitted," he said, regarding his 2012 vote, "or we were lied to."
Audio recordings from that 2012 vote appear to show the council was told chaining dogs would be legal, under conditions, as a secondary means of restraint.
"If you're using a chain inside a fence that's still allowable," said David Harmon, who was the public works director at the time. "It's decided on that."
"Because it doesn't specifically say you can't do it, you can," Harmon said. "So, you're allowed to because you're not told you're not allowed to."
"As long as the fence is your primary [method of restraint], and it's secure enough to contain the animals," said Jim Baker, who was the county manager at the time, "than you can also tether."
Animal rights advocates want chaining to be illegal and say the practice is inhumane.
"It causes them to become aggressive," said Mary Beth Knapp with the York County Humane Society, who interprets the ordinance to mean chaining is prohibited. "It causes them to become isolated."
Knapp says if there is a "loophole" in the law to allow chaining, she said she wants that closed. She heard the audio from the 2012 vote and is also confused.
"I don't know that I heard a clear definition in there," said Knapp. "I heard a lot of not defined final words. And that's a concern for me. Because you can walk away going, 'Well, what I heard was this.' And if there's a loophole we want to close the loophole."
Roddey says his support of the use of chains, as a secondary method of restraint, is about "public safety." FOX 46 asked Roddey what he would say to animal rights advocates who call chaining cruel.
"I would have them talk to a parent whose child has gotten mauled by an aggressive dog," or broke threw a fence, he responded.
He says he will push for the law to be clarified at the July 15 council meeting. Animal rights advocates are also expected to attend.
"Either we put in that it's legal, or we put in that it's illegal," said Roddey. "Either way, it has to be clarified."
FOX 46 has left messages with Animal Control and the Interim County Manager since Friday. We want to know how Animal Control interprets the law when it comes to enforcement.
A county spokesperson replied Monday with a response that only added to the ongoing confusion.
"The county enforces the ordinance as written," York County spokesperson Trish Startup said when asked if chaining is legal or illegal.
She would not elaborate or clarify.
County Manager Response
Interim County Manager David Hudspeth did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, he did respond to Roddey. In an email, Hudspeth wrote the following:
I have reviewed the ordinance, meeting minutes and audio from the public hearing conducted regarding the animal control ordinance from October 15, 2012. I agree with the current interpretation of the tethering provision of the ordinance as stated by our County Attorney and County Management. I also agree that the current enforcement by our Animal Control Department is consistent with the language contained within the ordinance. However, based on my review of the audio from the meeting, you are correct that staff provided an explanation that could be considered inconsistent on the question of tethering today.
Staff reported during the meeting that tethering an animal contained within a fence would be permitted. This is not how I read the ordinance that was under consideration at the time and ultimately approved, and it is not consistent with our current interpretation. I am not aware of all the discussions related to the development of the ordinance so I do not have a full understanding of the reasoning for the previous interpretation. It is unclear if the answers given by staff at the time were intended to mean animals could be tethered only while in the presence of the owner, as the ordinance requires, or if this includes other time periods when not in the presence of the owner.
Any remedy to enforce the tethering provision differently than we are currently enforcing, would require a council amendment to the ordinance.
Interim County Manager
York County Government