Salt Lake County seeks to free dogs chained around the clock

Published December 14, 2009 3:48 pm
Inhumane treatment? » Proposal would limit tethering to 10 hours.
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Chaining up your dog for 10 hours straight soon could become a crime in Salt Lake County.

The County Council is considering a crackdown on dog owners who leave their labs, huskies and terriers tied up all day long.

Councilman Joe Hatch, who has a black Lab/husky mix named Abby that he adopted from the Humane Society almost a decade ago, will introduce the county's first-ever restrictions on how long people can keep their pooches fastened to a rope or chain outside.

The proposed rules would make it a class B misdemeanor -- with up to a $1,500 fine -- for people who keep their dogs tethered longer than 10 hours.

Anything longer than that, Hatch said, is "simply inappropriate" and "inhumane treatment."

If adopted, the rules would apply to unincorporated communities and townships such as Magna, Kearns and Millcreek that, if combined, would contain enough people (170,000) to rank as Utah's second most-populous city.

"What we are after here are people who tether their dogs 24/7," said Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah and an ardent supporter of the changes. "Why even own a dog if you are going to tether it all the time?"

In 2008, the Humane Society received 38 complaints from people alleging that neighboring dogs were being kept on a chain for far too long. Trouble was, the county had no law on the books to gauge how long was too long.

Baierschmidt urges the County Council to change that.

"This is another step," he said, "in making sure animals are treated the way they should be."

The proposal also would impose rules about how to tether a dog -- the animal must be able to move around safely -- and bar pet owners from keeping a dog anchored outdoors during extreme cold or extreme heat.

So what about dog owners who work 12-hour shifts? Or who find themselves living in a rental unit -- maybe after losing a job -- that doesn't allow inside pets and doesn't have a fence to contain a dog?

"Not everyone's lifestyle is compatible with the [demands] of owning a dog," Hatch said.

However, the county plans to provide some case-by-case exemptions for dog owners based on an inspection by its animal services division.

What the proposed rules wouldn't include are new animal-control officers for the county -- already strapped for cash because of the economic downturn.

"Times are tight," said Shawni Larrabee, director of county animal services. "We certainly can't staff up for this."

Still, she described the measure as a potent policy statement about how animals should be treated and an enforcement tool for clamping down on the worst offenders.

"This is really a statement in terms of what our community believes is the most humane way to keep an animal," Larrabee said. "We would like to see that dogs could be a positive part of the community. But it is hard to do if a dog is tethered 24/7."

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What's next

The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday will consider new limits for chaining backyard dogs. The meeting is at 1:15 p.m. at the County Government Center, 2001 S. State St.

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