Council passes tethering ban

Published 11:21 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dog owners in Suffolk will no longer be able to keep their animals chained outside after Suffolk City Council passed a ban on tethering during Wednesday’s meeting.

The 6-2 vote to ban the practice came after two unsuccessful motions to pass ordinances that would have restricted tethering but not banned it outright. The new ban is set to begin Sept. 1, allowing a period of time for citizens to learn about the ban and make arrangements to comply with it.

Councilman Mike Duman, who initiated the conversation on tethering several months ago, said after the meeting a ban was not his first choice, as he believes a ban would preclude some residents from owning a dog. But he added the decision shows the city is being proactive in addressing issues.

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The discussion lasted more than an hour. Two motions to pass other ordinances that would have restricted such things as the length of time an animal could be chained, the age of the dog, weather conditions, type of collar and other factors failed.

Police Chief Thomas Bennett said banning tethering for a set length of time — one proposal was 10 hours — would be difficult to enforce without getting a confession or having a witness who kept eyes on the dog the entire time.

“Do we really believe this is enforceable?” Councilman Curtis Milteer asked. “Who’s going to sit and watch a dog 10 hours to make sure it hasn’t been released during that time? Anytime we put something on the books we can’t enforce, we’re playing tricks with the public.”

Councilmen Lue Ward and Charles Brown voted against the ban. Brown said he was concerned lower-income residents would not be able to afford fences, kennels or other methods to keep their dogs contained.

“If you take away tethering, you’re telling the poor people in this city they don’t deserve a dog,” Brown said.

But Mayor Linda T. Johnson — who gave up her gavel to second the motion for a complete ban — said there are plenty of affordable ways to be able to keep dogs outside without mistreating them.

About 20 people from the Suffolk Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were in the audience during the work session to support the measure.

“It’s the right thing for the city and our most helpless residents,” Kay Hurley, community outreach director for the Suffolk Humane Society, said after the vote.

Hurley said the society is considering establishing a fence fund for responsible owners who are unable to afford it.

“We don’t want anyone to lose their pets if they are responsible,” Hurley said.

Danielle Katz, campaigns manager for PETA, also applauded the ordinance.

“We’re thrilled that Suffolk has voted to become a safe place, not only for people but for animals,” she said. She added the organization now will focus its efforts on getting a similar ordinance passed in Newport News.