Contrasting with Flagler County and Palm Coast government, Flagler Beach last week all but approved revisions of its animal ordinance long sought by the Humane Society, with some strict restrictions–but not a ban–on dog tethering.
“I cherry-picked from ordinances from all around the country,” Drew Smith, the city’s attorney, said.
The revised ordinance, which the council unanimously approved on first reading last Thursday, prohibits the “unsupervised, unattended outdoor tethering” of a dog, whether in an enclosed or fenced in area or not.
The key difference with an outright ban on tethering is that a dog may be tethered outside for two 30-minute periods a day, one from 7 a.m. to noon, and one from noon to 9 p.m., weather permitting. The owner may be “out of visual range” for those 30-minute periods, but would have to still be at the property, and would be expected to monitor the dog’s conditions.
A dog may be tethered outside longer as long as it’s in visual range of its owner at all times.
Other restrictions: The tether must be strong but humane, giving the dog plenty of flexibility, comfort and room to roam, it must keep the dog at least within six feet or more from any property line. A dog may not be tethered outside during inclement weather regardless, including during thunderstorms or worse weather events, or when the temperature is above 90 degrees or below 40. But the ordinance’s wording doesn’t clarify a key difference: the temperature may well be below 90 or below 40 in the shade, but not necessarily so under the sun, though the ordinance also requires available shade, water and dry ground provided a tethered dog at all times.
Flagler County government came close to approving an ordinance stricter than Flagler Beach’s late last summer, but drew back when it heard objections from the American Kennel Club, and eventually adopted an ordinance that makes ample room for outdoor tethering. Palm Coast signaled that it would be revising its own ordinance, and a draft was in the works, but City Manager Matt Morton said the revised ordinance would not be coming to council any time soon–that it might happen late this year or early next year. Some Flagler County commissioners expressed interest in looking at their ordinance again, but pending Palm Coast’s actions.
In Flagler Beach, the ordinance drew support from commissioners, who’d made suggested revisions at a previous meeting, and from a dog-owning residents who’d worried that a previous, more restrictive version would be enacted.
Theresa Boyd, owner of a Newfoundland “who loves being out on the front porch in the morning,” said her concerns were heard. “The new ordinance is much better,” she said. She takes an hour to clean house. Her dog is tethered outside for that time, because she doesn’t have a fenced in yard. But she had additional suggestions. “I understand what you’re trying to do is keep dogs safe, and I applaud you for that,” Boyd said. “But a fine or a ticket is not going to keep the dog safe. So my suggestion is, give an alternative to the dog owner for obedience training instead of a fine. Let’s get these owners who are not responsible into learning how to care for a dog, and the dog to learn how to be a great indoor pet.”
The city will in fact not be heavy-handed with citations: a first violation of the ordinance will be treated as a warning–a requirement to train the dog at a dog-training class, within 30 days of the warning. A second offense would result in a fine.
Don Morton, an animal control officer for Flagler County who also works on contract for Flagler Beach, spoke for the Humane Society’s Amy Carotenuto, who could not attend Thursday’s meeting. Enforcement, Mporton said, will be an issue. Referring to an enforcement officer, she said: “How do you know that while he was on his traffic stop down the road the owner didn’t bring his dog in for five minutes, which then re-starts that 30 minutes all over.”
“It doesn’t,” Smith said: if the dog is put outside for a few minutes then taken in, that’s it. “You don’t get to split it up into 15, 15, 15,” or use the clock cumulatively, Smith said.
Morton was not convinced. “Obviously you can’t punish a dog for being tied out and tethered, but you can’t enforce that ordinance if it does have a time.”
“You can enforce it, but I would compare it to enforcing two-hour parking,” Smith said.
Even then, the first violation would be treated as a warning. Morton said the Humane Society has offered puppy classes but with no success, making the warning possibly not useful.
“We’re just trying to give some flexibility to it,” Kim Carney, who chairs the city commission, said. “We get it. We get it. Anything is hard to enforce.” (But with any code enforcement violation, the first document from the issuing agency is a warning, not a citation.)
Few people spoke on the ordinance. Another resident who did had no overall objections, but found it went too far in one regard. “Sometimes I think we can almost police things too far,” the resident of Central Avenue said. “The front porch, to me, is part of the house.”
The ordinance is below.