by Amanda Newsom
It’s been a cold winter thus far, which means animal control facilities have been inundated with calls from concerned citizens about outdoor dogs having adequate shelter for the chilling temperatures and icy wind. William Wise, Walton County Animal Control’s (WCAC) director, submitted a memo recently to the Walton County Board of Commissioners to address their work in response to these cold weather complaints.
Working with limited resources and within legal restraints, winter weather-related calls started coming in during early December, where they received 15 calls on just one of those first days. Leading up to the first winter advisory of the season, WCAC preemptively began issuing warnings and distributing informational pamphlets about the proper tethering ordinance, and they have maintained an on-going updated list of addresses to recheck those animals during other declared winter weather advisories.
To demonstrate the work they’ve done for animals during these cold weather spurts, when a winter advisory was issued on January 16, one officer stayed late to answer calls until 11pm while another officer came back in to work overtime to address those calls. That day alone, they visited over 20 residences, issued 15 citations and two warnings, and rechecked dogs that had been reported during previous advisories.
Keep in mind that when Walton County animal control officers respond to complaints about dogs outdoors during cold weather, they must follow laws and procedures regarding humane treatment as outlined below:
The Ordinance: Walton County revised the ordinance to include a “proper tethering” section in 2013. The current Walton County Ordinance makes it illegal to tether a dog during any declared weather warnings, advisories or emergencies (see Sec. 10-19e). We utilize the National Weather Service’s website to track these warnings (www.weather.gov). Because of the way the ordinance is worded, it is only during these advisories that we can issue a citation that will stand up to prosecution in court.
Complaints Received in advance of Official Advisories: We often receive complaints in the couple days leading up to a winter weather forecast. When we receive complaints of tethered animals outside of an official warning, we issue warnings and provide special pamphlets to dog owners advising of the law. We also place the address on a list to recheck during a future weather advisory. We have also published information regarding the winter weather tethering law on local television and social media sites.
Complaints During Advisories: During declared advisories as posted by the National Weather Service, our officers respond to new calls and follow up on the previous complaints as time allows. Each circumstance is handled case-by-case depending upon severity and previous complaint. In many cases, citations are issued if previous warnings have been issued. Typical fines are $250 but can go as high as $1000, being misdemeanors.
Complaints received while animal control officers are off duty: In order to issue a citation for tethering during a declared weather advisory, an animal control officer must view the violation. However, as in the latest incident, the county is on shut down and our officers are not patrolling. In those cases, or other cases that occur outside of our normal hours, citations can still be issued.
If a citizen or other law enforcement officer witnesses an animal tethered outdoors during a declared advisory, they can email a photograph of the animal tethered during the advisory period and an animal control officer will issue a citation once normal hours resume. The witness providing the photo will be subpoenaed to court.
While assumptions of all kinds go around about animal control, the work they do behind the scenes is impressive and commendable, not to mention physically and mentally exhausting. The next time you see an animal control officer, in any county, please take a moment to show them some love and thank them for the grueling work they do to help both pets and their owners.
For more information regarding winter weather advisories affecting animals outdoors, please contact the animal control facility in your county or in the county which you are requesting more information or reporting a complaint.