South Charlotte

Union County: Without leash laws, there are no strays

Even on dry and sunny days, it sometimes rains cats and dogs on social media.

The number of people posting photos and messages about lost pets on popular Union County Facebook pages seemed unusually high during the holidays.

Coincidentally, that is when I received an email from Lake Park resident Norris Jeffrey, who said he is “interested in the need in Union County for more effective regulation and restrictions on confining/control of animals including leash laws.”

Jeffrey’s email was not prompted by social media.

It was in response to an article about Sue Ratliff ending her term as president of the Humane Society of Union County. Ratliff and incoming President Barbara Blair said in the article that Union County needs a leash law.

“There is no stray if there is no leash law,” Blair said.

Half of the county’s 14 municipalities use the county’s animal control ordinance and have not instituted additional restrictions. Those towns are Fairview, Hemby Bridge, Marvin, Mineral Springs, Weddington, Wesley Chapel and Unionville.

The county’s ordinance permits dogs and cats to be “at large” except when it is deemed dangerous or a public nuisance. An animal is considered “at large” when “it is off the real property of its owner or keeper and not under physical restraint,” according to the county ordinance.

Leash laws keeping dogs from roaming “at large” have been adopted in Lake Park, Indian Trail, Stallings, Monroe, Waxhaw, Marshville and Wingate, according to information provided by town officials or available on town websites.

Of these, the strictest may be Lake Park, which prohibits cats and dogs from roaming at large.

Lake Park Mayor David Cleveland said cats were included because “we have had some areas in our town where feral cats are a problem. They were damaging people’s property.”

He said some Lake Park residents also consider domestic cats to be a problem when they are allowed to roam.

“They present a threat to the bird population,” Cleveland said. “And a lot of us, me included, are bird lovers. … I have watched cats kill birds right at my bird feeders.”

Cleveland said he has seen an improvement since the ordinance was adopted in 2011.

The ordinance also requires owners to pick up their pets’ waste if it’s deposited anywhere other than the owner’s property. The county’s animal control ordinance also has a similar requirement.

But Lake Park has installed stations with bags and waste receptacles in popular walking areas to make this task easier.

Jeffrey, a retired fish and wildlife biologist, said Lake Park’s animal control ordinance could serve as a model for the county and other municipalities.

“I feel very strongly that Union County needs a leash law,” he said. “I also feel very strongly that the leash law should include cats. I also feel that the majority of people in Union County will not want a leash law that includes cats.”

Whether or not a leash law would reduce the number of lost-and-found animals publicized on signs or in social media isn’t clear.

Lt. Michelle Starnes of the Union County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services Bureau said by email: “Who knows, it will cause a trickle-down effect. We would have to have more field officers and a much larger shelter, which would in turn cause more shelter staff and increase (the) euthanasia rate. Leash law sounds good until all other factors come into play.”

Starnes also pointed out that the county animal services does not enforce nor pick up animals within municipalities that have adopted a leash law; that responsibly falls on those municipalities.

Her suggestion for Union County pet owners is that owners spay or neuter animals and have all vaccinations up-to-date.

Barbara Blair, newly elected president of the Humane Society of Union County, said spaying and neutering, along with education, will be the primary concerns for the organization this year.

The HSUC operates a low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic in Monroe.