County Limits Dog Tethering

County Limits Dog Tethering

“Man’s best friend deserves legal protection,” said Peggy Marshall, who adopted her best friend, Bianca.

Bianca endured a life on a chain for years until stray dogs attacked her.

“She tried to defend herself but couldn’t run away and was badly bitten,” said Marshall. Marshall’s testimony at the Nov. 17 public hearing of the Board of Supervisors covered the intent of the board’s proposed amendment regarding cruelty to animals, including dog tethering.

Bianca was then dropped off at an animal shelter to be euthanized. An animal care assistant intervened, got Bianca a week of medical attention and from there a rescue group intervened.

“Happily, Bianca’s story ends with an unchained life and Boar’s Head roast beef every day,” said Marshall.

Tethering a dog for more than one cumulative hour during any 24-hour period, unless the dog is under the direct supervision and control of its owner or custodian, is now prohibited in Fairfax County. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, Nov. 17, to amend the Fairfax County Code to incorporate the Code of Virginia’s cruelty to animals provisions along with the tethering provision.

MORE THAN 20 people testified for more than two hours at a public hearing at the Nov. 17 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, and not all were in favor of the new regulations.

The Board of Supervisors met some resistance when proposing limits to dog tethering, the amount of time animals could be left unsupervised on a leash or a line in the backyard.

“When [Lee District] Supervisor [Jeff] McKay and I introduced this in late spring after working with some of the shelter staff,” said Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey, “we never contemplated the idea that this would limit the amount of time you could walk your dog on a leash because that was tethering” or that if a groomer had a leash on a dog for more than an hour that would violate the ordinance.

Some people worried that dog groomers could be in violation of the new provision if they needed to tie a long-haired dog for more than an hour.

“That was an interpretation that never occurred to us, but I’ve talked with some folks and I’ve worked with our staff and the county attorney’s office to propose an amendment that I think takes care of those concerns,” he said.

Frey started the public hearing by saying the board would add qualifying language to the proposal that would allow a dog to be tethered for longer than an hour if “the dog is under the direct supervision and control of its owner or custodian.”

“That will take care of some of the concerns that were addressed,” Frey said.

Capt. John Naylor, commander of the Animal Control Division, said tethering can deprive dogs of their ability for survival necessities, such as water and food. Limited to a life on a chain regularly can make dogs aggressive as well as potentially cause strangulation, he said. They can be at risk for hypothermia and heat stress, which can lead to severe health problems.

But others raised concerns about the meaning of “direct supervision and control.”

“I’ve been a dog owner my entire life,” said Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who asked that the proposal be deferred for more consideration. He raised the example of taking his dog with him when he plays rugby, with the dog tethered in sight, but for more than an hour for the game. County staff replied that the scenario would not be allowed, and that the dog should be directly supervised by someone during the game.

Alice Harrington, legislative liaison of the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, spoke in opposition.

“This bill is written and assumes all tethering is bad, and that is not true,” she said.

“There is no link [in this proposal] between tethering of a dog and the condition of the dog. Anyone who tethers a dog for 61 minutes can be charged with animal cruelty,” even if there is no harm to the dog.

Allison Volpert, who serves on the county animal services advisory council, participates with two of her dogs in agility classes at Frying Pan Park. She regularly leaves one dog tethered for somewhat more than an hour, with a cooling pad and water in summer, while she participates with her other dog in class. But with the new provision she will no longer be able to do so.

SHE URGED the supervisors to delay the vote and to work with a more diverse group of animal lovers to make recommendations.

Arlington County animal control officer Jennifer Toussaint said Arlington County uses its tethering law and enforcement to educate homeowners how to be more effective dog owners.

“Experts agree that tethering is not conducive to the well being of dogs.”

— Holly Hazard, Humane Society of the United States

Holly Hazard of the Humane Society of the United States testified in favor of the limits on tethering.

“Experts agree that tethering is not conducive to the well being of dogs,” she said, and is “inhumane.”

“Most citizens don’t want to be bad pet owners, they need guidance, and if control officers can intervene, she said, they can eliminate tethering from becoming a punitive measure.

“Citizens need guidance,” she said.

“The ordinance fulfills our commitment to treat animals with dignity and compassion,” testified Timothy Parmly. “It’s a good ordinance,” he said. “Chaining a dog is cruel.”

Fines and penalties for violating the tethering provision, range from a fine of $500 for a first violation to being punishable by fine of up to $2,500 and/or penalty of up to one year in jail for a third violation within the same year.