New shelter and tethering laws better protect animal welfare

New sheltering and tethering laws became effective in December, and Worcester County Animal Control (WCAC) officers have been working diligently to educate the public about the new requirements. The new law, adopted unanimously by the Commissioners as Bill 18-4 Public Safety – Animal Control, defines suitable shelter, tethered, restraints, and unsafe weather conditions, and establishes standards for tethering an animal, for suitable tiered shelter of animals if left outdoors and unattended, and for shade to be provided if an animal is left outdoors and unattended and the forecasted weather is 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

While Bill 18-4 empowers WCAC officers to intervene in instances when pets are subjected to inhumane conditions, and violations are punishable with a civil infraction citation, the ultimate goal of WCAC staff is education, to encourage pet owners to willingly comply with the new animal welfare requirements.

“We’re all carrying copies of the new law with us to show people what changes they need to make,” WCAC Chief Animal Control Officer Glen Grandstaff said. “We don’t want to go out and cite them. That’s not what this is about. This is about education. We talk to people. We let them know what changes need to be made. We give them time to make those changes, and then we go back to assure those changes have been made.”

The new law includes sheltering requirements that assure an animal’s safety during adverse weather conditions and that are based on the animal’s size, age, physical condition, or thickness of the animal’s fur. Specifically, suitable sheltering is required for dogs that are not kept indoors or are housed outdoors for periods of 30 minutes or more no matter the weather conditions. Suitable shelter is defined as a structure with secure sides, a roof, and a floor to protect the animal from weather. Wind breaks, dry clean bedding, and access to fresh unfrozen water must be provided during temperatures that drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

For temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, dogs that are housed outside must be provided shade from direct sunlight and be kept away from hot pavement and any other hot surfaces. Fresh clean drinking water must always be available. Dog tethers must either be a cable style tie out of at least 15 feet in length and positioned so that the dog cannot become tangled in debris or otherwise endanger itself. Overhead trolley systems, dog kennels, or runs of suitable size, fenced in yards or invisible fencing are also acceptable. Chains, ropes, and choke collars are no longer acceptable for use as a collar or for tethering.

Since the new law took effect, WCAC has only been called upon in a few instances to step in and enforce the new code. However, WCAC relies on the public to inform them of instances of potential abuse, so they can work together to assure the welfare of animals. To view Bill 18-4, email admin@co.worceter.md.us or view it online here.