To the displeasure of the Flagler Humane Society, the County Commission on Monday approved a revised animal ordinance that loosens tethering rules just a month after an earlier version of the ordinance would have all but banned the practice.
The revised ordinance had first been submitted to commissioners last month but was pulled back after objections from the American Kennel Club, an organization primarily concerned with the registration and showcasing of purebred dogs rather than with animal welfare. The club did not like ordinance requirements that water be continuously available for an animal, or that it could not be tethered. The administration relaxed those provisions accordingly in an unusual capitulation to a national organization despite local opposition.
“We did have an extended telephone conversation, item by item,” with the club, County Administrator Jerry Cameron said, “and reached consensus with them on what is being presented.”
Tethering has been an increasingly debated and controversial issue in such ordinances. Some local governments ban tethering almost outright, as Flagler was prepared to do a month ago. Some do not.
A month ago, Flagler’s amended ordinance would have required all dogs to be confined to their owner’s property. If the dog was outside, a tether could be used only if the owner was within sight at all times. No exceptions. Otherwise, “the unsupervised, unattended outdoor tethering of a dog is prohibited,” the ordinance read, “whether or not the dog is otherwise inside a fenced or enclosed outdoor area.”
The ordinance commissioners unanimously approved Monday does away with that language, replacing it with an allowance for tethering under certain circumstances. The owner must ensure that the tether will not cause injuries or death. Unattended dogs must have access to shelter from extreme temperatures and other weather elements, food and water, and a tethered dog “must be released from the tether and confined in an alternate manner for not less than ten continuous hours during each 24-hour period.”
The revised ordinance emphatically bans any kind of injurious tethering or the use of weights or harmful collars.
“The danger here is to not be willing to accept a 95 percent solution to these problems, looking for perfection and in the meantime we’ll have animals that will be treated poorly,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said ahead of the vote. “There’s a lot of subjectivity to this, that we need to go forward with this to get it on the books, and over the years if we find there are problems with anything we’ve done, that can be changed.”
Amy Carotenuto, executive director of the Flagler Humane Society, wanted the commission to stick with the August version of the ordinance, at least regarding tethering.
“Twenty-three states have either completely outlawed the chaining of dogs or seriously restricted it, and hundreds of cities and counties across the nation have as well,” Carotenuto said. “Dogs are very social creatures just like you and I. Life on the end of a chain is lonely, boring, frustrating, torture. When dogs are bored they develop behavior problems, excess energy, can lead to obnoxious behaviors, dogs can even become aggressive.” Chained dogs are likelier to bite someone, she said, as they develop territorial instincts for the small bit of ground to which they’re confined. “This is how children get attacked a lot of times.”
In Flagler, animal control officers still see dogs on chains and consequent abuse: mistreatment, sporadic feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care, lack of exercise and exposure to extreme temperatures. The tether becomes an indicator of neglectful tendencies on the part of the owner. Carotenuto showed examples of abuse locally in just the last month. She then offered a litany of cases she personally worked: “The chained dog who was kept near an empty family pool. The dog fell while the family was at the grocery store. They called me to pull his dangling body out of the pool. The chained dog who was kept in a fenced backyard yet was still chained. The dog jumped the fence. The chain caught on the fence. The dog died from hanging.” And so on.
County Attorney Al Hadeed had anticipated Carotenuto’s statement before she spoke, saying: “Whatever ordinance we have is applied through the professional training of the animal control officers and obviously the deputies that are trained in this realm. This is a significant improvement over the prior code revisions, it just had not been updated in quite a bit. This is essentially updating that, and we think this fairly at this point in time reflects the appropriate standards for animal care.”
But Carotenuto essentially said that that sort of thinking was 20 years out of date. She said 20 years ago the 12-foot rule for a tether would have been fine, “but we’ve grown so much since then, we’ve progressed since then, I think our community wants more.”
The county’s documentation included an American Kennel Club list of questions and answers on tethering, explaining why tethering is occasionally necessary: tethers accommodate “Owners who hike and camp with their dogs,” “Owners in residential developments with architectural and fencing restrictions,” “Disabled and blind owners,” even “Owners of escape-artist dogs.”
One of the few residents who addressed the board, a Palm Coast animal advocate, cited from what she described as an “article” titled “The truth about chained dogs.” Chained dogs, the resident read from the item, “‘kill as many children as do firearms, falls from trees, playground equipment and fireworks accidents all put together.’ These are statistics from the centers for disease control, so they’re not made up.”
As is often the case with information harvested from untethered Google searches, the information is very much made up. The “article” is in fact an undated blog post from a site that calls itself Pacc911.com, and that repeats a line that has appeared on various sites in various forms, always attributing the information to the CDC, always lacking an attribution link. One site that calls itself “Animal Law Source” went as far as claiming that the information was from a 2002 “study” by the CDC.
There is no such study. There are no CDC statistics that attribute deaths or even injuries to chained dogs. A report on the 5,480 children’s deaths due to unintentional injuries in 2017 (generated through this CDC page) doesn’t list “bites” of any kind in the top 18 causes of death, let alone bites by chained dogs. The CDC’s most recent Childhood Injury Report dates back to 2008. This much is true: bites account for 6 percent of all non-fatal injuries to children up to age 19. But the category is all-inclusive: it not only includes all sorts of bites, including those from rodents or snakes, but it also includes insect and other “stings.” An appendix in the report breaks out injuries from dog bites, but what that number shows is that the rate of injuries from dog bites is two and a half times lower than that of other bites or stings.
In other words the variously repeated claim that chained dogs “kill as many children as do firearms, falls from trees, playground equipment and fireworks accidents all put together” is not only false on its face, but would be false even by extrapolation, with the number of other bites and stings tacked on to dog bites padding whatever sensational results were sought to make a case against chaining dogs.