New pet-abuse laws are needed

by Jim Longworth

Last year Susie’s Law went into effect, making animal cruelty a Class H felony. But the law didn’t go far enough. Abusers can only be sentenced to a maximum 10 months in jail, and a non-animalloving judge could reduce that significantly. It also did not criminalize unintentional abuse, such as neglect. And it did not address the issue of tethering dogs as a form of abuse.

Sen. Don Vaughan is proposing a new law that would make it a crime for someone to recklessly neglect a pet, such as leaving a dog without food and water. If passed, Vaughan’s bill would also allow judges to remove a neglected pet from the home. Unfortunately, Vaughan is a Democrat in a GOP controlled Senate. The man who decides if Vaughan’s bill gets a hearing is Sen. Austin Allran of Hickory, who told the Greensboro News & Record, “Animal bills tend to be extremely controversial,” referring to opposition from hunters and dog breeders.

Hey Austin, man up! Who cares what abusive dog breeders and macho hunting groups have to say? You are a lawmaker, not a contestant in a popularity contest. The chairman of the judiciary committee should put principal over provincial politics, and do what he can to stamp out a universal evil without fear of local backlash from a few loudmouths. Still, Vaughan faces an uphill battle in Raleigh, similar to the obstacles faced by Lori Sears, chairman of the Forsyth County Animal Control Advisory Board.

Sears’ board has recommended to county commissioners a ban on tethering. Sears and others contend that leaving a dog tied is unsafe for the animal and for humans who come in contact with the animal. Tethering is also often associated with other problems of abuse and neglect, such as lack of food, water, adequate shelter and proper vet care.

The ban would prohibit tethering as the primary method of confine ment, but like Susie’s Law, it comes up short. As written, the ban would still allow dogs to be “temporarily” restrained for up to seven days during hunting, hiking or camping trips, and it would be phased in over a two-year period. Tethering should only be used for a few hours at a time when training a dog to respect boundaries, but that shouldn’t be necessary if dog owners were required to erect fences. As for the proposed phase in period, that just gives abusive owners two more years to let the animal suffer.

So while the proposed ban doesn’t go far enough, it is a step in the right direction. It is now up to the board of commissioners to decide the issue. But if they listen to folks like Albert Jacobs, the county may not take that right step. Jacobs is a member of the advisory board who voted against the ban, but his reason for opposition is almost as disturbing as the abuse itself. According to his statement to the Winston-Salem Journal, Jacobs tethers seven dogs on his property.

That begs the question, how in hell does someone like that get on the animal control advisory board?

According to Dave Plyer, the county commissioners appoint advisory members after a screening process which involves a review of a written bio, contact with the applicant and input from the community. But apparently, the appointment process itself needs review. Having someone on the animal control board who tethers his own dogs is like having a sex offender work for child protective services.

Forsyth needs to loosen the tethers and tighten its standards for board appointments. Meanwhile, Republicans in Raleigh need to stop living in fear of hunters and breeders, and pass Sen. Vaughan’s neglect law. Politicians who continually fail to recognize the horrors of animal abuse should themselves be neglected come time for re-election.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).