Last year, when animal-rights activists from Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) allegedly took a pet Chihuahua from the families porch (believing it to be a stray), and then euthanized it, the issue of animal rights on the Eastern Shore was briefly under a white hot spotlight. That was followed by a 75-year-old Accomack County man being was charged with 30 counts in connection with alleged inadequate care of dogs after 16, one of them dead, were recovered from his home.
Note: No matter how bad you think it is for animals on the Eastern Shore, it is really much, much worse.
While there was a brief firestorm surrounding these events, a year later, not much has really changed regarding boots on the ground protection for all domestic animals. We understand many people still care, and are trying very hard, however, the lack of change, the stasis, indicates a flaw in the design, an inadequacy in the overall approach. However, there are other examples in other places, which could provide an entry-level roadmap to provide more effective protections for animals being kept in Northampton County. Rewind back to September 1, 2013, when the City of Suffolk put into effect Section 10-42 Code of the City of Suffolk, prohibiting all unattended tethering of dogs:
“Unattended tethering of dogs prohibited: It shall be unlawful to tether any unattended dog whether or not the dog has been provided adequate space.” Violation of the ordinance is a class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $250.00. Tethering is the use of something, such as a rope or chain, by which a dog is fastened so that it can range only within a set radius.”
The Cape Charles Mirror contacted Suffolk’s Chief Animal Control Officer Meghann McGillvray-Lanier to discuss how effective the tethering ordinance has been. According to Meghann, the tethering ordinance was never meant to be a fully punitive action, but more part of holistic approach to animal welfare, that incorporates education and outreach along with enforcement efforts. “When we have a report of a violation, our officers don’t immediately issue a summons, but start by explaining the ordinance, and talk about other ways to control the dog, about what is humane treatment…” In other words, every report of a violation is an opportunity to engage, discuss and educate the public about the proper way to care for an animal.
Officer McGillvray-Lanier does not stop there, but is constantly engaged in public outreach, whether it is sending out flyers, brochures, meeting with groups or putting up posters.
For Northampton, including Cape Charles, the Suffolk approach seems like it could be a good fit. The reality is that folks have been tethering and penning dogs for a very long time; it is something that over time has become part of how we do things on the shore. That said, having a viable, enforceable ordinance is the first step. The next is to allow our officers to use the ordinance for public outreach, education, engagement and discussion. A punitive approach not only will yield minimal results, it is also logistically impossible to carry out.
It is important to note that after Suffolk passed its tethering ordinance, not only has the number of violations gone down, but also the number of calls reporting violations to animals. The outreach and educational approach appears to be paying dividends in an area that has much in common with Northampton.
Note: we understand that there are socioeconomic factors that play a big role in the way animals are perceived, and eventually treated, and that this is an entirely other conversation.
While Section 10-42 of the Suffolk Code is still relatively new, Officer Meghann McGillvray-Lanier is in the process of compiling as series of Lessons Learned, which hopefully we can leverage in our county. An important lesson we can already use, is that a new tethering ordinance, along with a less punitive law enforcement approach could put in place a process that hopes to, through dialog, outreach and education, slowly begin to make changes in perception and understanding–this will hopefully translate into real change on the ground.