Iredell County is considering rewriting some of its animal welfare laws, responding to changes to state regulations and seeking to address public safety concerns.
The possible changes to a county ordinance regulating the treatment of animals are wide ranging, from restrictions on tethering animals to banning certain exotic pets. They are expected to go before county commissioners for approval early next month.
The re-examination started taking place about a year ago, partly in response to changes in state law in recent years, said Brad Gates, director of the county Animal Services and Control department, which is conducting the revision. Among the changes are authorizing firefighters, animal control officers and other officials to rescue animals from inside dangerously hot vehicles, as well as requiring animal shelters to keep animals for three days before seeking adoption.
Under a recently passed state law, the county will loosen its rules on the treatment of farm animals, with the law superseding the authority of local governments to regulate such matters. In response, the county is drawing a distinction between livestock and other animals, creating a definition for companion animals such as cats and dogs.
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Other possible changes, however, are more precautionary.
The county is considering banning certain exotic pets, including hybrid cats and dogs, given that there are no approved rabies vaccines for them. The approval of vaccines for small animals is handled by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, based on a compendium put together by a group of veterinarians.
While local governments in North Carolina are left to decide whether to require that such animals receive vaccinations, the county is considering putting in place that rule after a county animal control officer was attacked by a large hybrid cat over the past year. The officer was vaccinated against rabies, as is standard procedure, but the incident led the officer to go to the emergency room.
“They’re quite an animal,” Gates said of the feline, called the Savannah cat. A cross between a domestic cat and a wild African cat, it weighs a little more than 20 pounds and stands about knee-high.
The number of rabid animals officials have encountered throughout the county is increasing, albeit slightly, Gates said. He cited a strain of rabies found in raccoons, noting that more than half of the raccoons taken to the county animal shelter tested positive for the virus.
Unvaccinated dogs and cats are expected to eventually contract the virus, he noted.
Animal welfare officials are also considering banning primates and constrictor snakes stretching more than 8 feet long, citing potential diseases and safety risks.
In Iredell and Mecklenburg counties, incidents involving primates have occurred in recent years, Gates said. Earlier this year, a small monkey named Carter escaped from a Charlotte hospital, biting an employee there.
Beyond aiming to address public health concerns, the department intends to more closely align its animal control policies with those of surrounding counties.
The possible changes may also prohibit tethering animals to leashes less than 10 feet long, or a length based on the body weight of the pet, along with banning the tethering of injured or sick animals. The reason is that tethered animals, usually dogs, tend to have more aggression, Gate said. He added that when dog bites are reported, it is not uncommon that the animal had escaped from a tether.
Under its current ordinance, the county requires that owners tether their pets to leashes no shorter than 8 feet.
As part of the revision, the department is taking into consideration feedback from municipal officials and the public.
At a public hearing late last month on the possible changes, some attendees expressed concerns about a proposal to ban certain surgical procedures on pets that are not performed by a veterinarian. They include castration, ear cropping, tail docking and declawing.
“There were lots of passionate people” who turned out to the meeting, Gates said.
County commissioners are expected to vote on whether to approve the recommendations at a meeting on Oct. 6, Gates said.
Should the recommendations get approval, the changes will take effect gradually, with the department holding off on enforcing “certain portions” of the revised ordinance for six months or so for public education reasons, Gates said.
Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org