Just two months ago the Flagler County Commission unanimously approved an animal ordinance that codified new protections for animals, but that also allowed the unattended tethering–or chaining–of dogs outside as long as certain safety measures were in place. Animal advocates, including the Flagler Humane Society, strenuously objected to that provision, especially since a previous version of the ordinance had forbidden unattended tethering.
The county administration removed that provision when the American Kennel Club, an organization focused on showcasing purebred dogs, intervened with a letter, objecting to the unattended tethering rule. Many residents were perplexed as to why the administration or the commission caved to an organization headquartered on Park Avenue in Manhattan, against the urging of the organization the commission contracts with for animal control, on Shelter Drive off of Palm Coast Parkway, and its large following.
That following–some 65 people in all–filled a room at the Humane Society Tuesday evening in a “Town Howl” organized by the society’s Amy Carotenuto and County Commissioner Joe Mullins, both of whom want to revisit the issue, as do others on the commission. The debate may have consequences beyond county government as Palm Coast is in the midst of revising its own animal ordinance, and Flagler Beach may follow suit.
The message Mullins got was unequivocal: there is little support for an “unattended tethering” allowance. In the words of Ineta Jonusas, allowing a little tethering is like “a little bit of slavery, ok?” But to say there was no support would be inaccurate: one of the many thoughtfully presented arguments by members in the audience included that of a woman who spoke of the disabled person unable to sit with a dog outside, but who could watch the tethered dog from within the house, or who spoke of herself as liking the convenience of tethering her dog in the yard for a half hour’s exercise.
The second message Mullins got was that the commission’s decision to go back on its own administration’s ordinance and give in to the American Kennel Association was indefensible. “AKC is not an animal welfare organization. People need to remember that,” Kate McFall, Florida state director of the Humane Society of the United States told the group as she was Skyped in from Tallahassee. “Not like Flagler Humane, Humane Society of the United States and many others. It’s really a pure-breeding dog registry, that’s how they get their money.” She described the number of bills the association routinely opposes–including a bill that would have banned the sexual abuse of animals in Kentucky–on odd grounds, usually intended to protect against any measure that could interfere with the profitable breeding of dogs.
Mullins tried to explain why he and the rest of the commission went along with the kennel association’s version of the ordinance in Flagler. “We talked about it being better to put something on the books for right now than nothing,” Mullins said, “but said we would immediately address it and look at it and approach it. That wasn’t reported in the news. It wasn’t reported in the media.”
Mullins was a bit off the mark on two counts. First, his argument was reported almost word for word, at least in these pages, when Commissioner Dave Sullivan justified the vote by saying 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.” (He was also grossly vulgar in a Facebook comment on Thursday below a link to the FlaglerLive story on a the page of someone who hadn’t made it to the meeting, he wrote: “Sorry you didn’t make it. We did decide to chain and muzzle all radical liberals in the county. Lol.” He did not appear to realize that his attempt at humor belittled the very cause he claims to be championing.)
Second, the issue was not actually a matter of getting something on the books: the administration was actually ready with an ordinance the Humane Society endorsed a month earlier. It could have been on the books then, if that was the priority. But the administration, with the commission’s approval, delayed it to accommodate the kennel society. “I don’t know why they’re getting involved in our laws,” a woman in the audience said.
That accommodation was never explained then. Nor did Mullins explain it Tuesday evening.
But he was clearly interested in listening to the animal advocates and revising the ordinance. The question, he posed the audience, was to what extent–without being categorical–something “instead of an all or nothing.”
“When these kinds of ordinances come up it is important to get engaged and let us know as your officials where you stand,” Mullins told the assembly. “If right now 80 percent of this county wanted pink mailboxes and I hated them, I’m going to have to accept pink mailboxes, because if I’m really representing you. I go out and do what you need to do.”
Clearly, more than 80 percent of the audience agreed with McFall, the state Humane Society official, who said that “the gold standard is no unattended” tethering.
“Life on the end of a chain for a dog is torture,” Carotenuto said, showing disturbing pictures of dogs severely injured by chains.
But it was not necessarily a representative audience of the population at large. Mullins raised the question: what about time-limited tethering? That drew serious objections because of the slippery slope approach: allowing this much time could be interpreted more expansively, it could lead to abuse, forgetfulness, and so on. There was clearly less opposition to attended tethering: the dog chained while the owner mows the law, washes the car, takes the sun.
Twenty-two states have minimum standards for dog chaining outside. Ten states restrict the amount of time a dog spends on a chain. Nine states protect dogs against extreme weather. But Florida has no such laws. It’s up to localities. That’s where Flagler County’s ordinance comes in.
Mullins said he and Carotenuto will word on revising the ordinance passed in September. The ordinance Carotenuto has in mind would revert to the original version that preceded the kennel association’s intervention. It would prohibit unattended tethering of any sort, but would make significant provisions for attended tethering as long as the dog is “in visible range of the owner or responsible party,” as long as the person is outside with the dog (not looking out from within the house).
Palm Coast is rewriting its own animal ordinance, with a section on tethering. The wording is still fluid, so it may yet change before it lands on city council members’ desks, especially after Tuesday evening’s Town Howl (City Council member Bob Cuff and City Manager Matt Morton attended). But the wording as of Nov. 13 is an invitation to the sort of loud opposition the county’s ordinance has drawn. Palm Coast’s proposal makes more permissive provisions for tethering, including what amounts to 24-hour tethering, as long as the dog is untethered for exercise for a minimum of two hours in every 24-hour period. The proposed ordinance lists 15 conditions for tethering, absent which tethering would be considered “animal cruelty.” Palm Coast’s proposal also outlines numerous provisions regulating a dog’s unattended sheltering.
Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy also attended the meeting and said she would bring up the issue at the next city commission meeting. Mealy reminded the audience that the focus of any ordinance should be on general principles, not on minutiae, otherwise nothing would get passed.
Echoing that more pragmatic analysis, a significant portion of Monday’s “town howl” involved an explanation by County Attorney Al Hedeed of the existing ordinance beyond strict wording. The ordinance goves authorities, including sheriff’s deputies, considerable leeway to judge and determine instances of animal abuse, while the county itself would aggressively–and, usually, successfully–prosecute such instances. “We’ve never failed in any of the prosecutions that we’ve done. Ever,” Hadeed said. “Just so you know, our courts here have been very amenable to heareing these cases and giving them priority and a status that we’re very forunate to have.”
Leaving a dog chained or tethered without supervision serves nothing and no one but a lazy owner. Either fence your yard or walk your dog on a leash.
If your too lazy or too disabled to properly care for an animal than DO NOT get one, period.
Steve Robinson says
While I admit to having a dog in this fight–actually two, who would make my life hell if they were ever tethered outside–I find it interesting, though not surprising, that Commissioner Mullins would falsely blame “the media” for misreporting this particular issue. Isn’t he the guy who loves being photographed in his MAGA hat? Just askin’.
Celia Pugliese says
No tethering…if anyone is going to have a dog tide outdoors, then have no business owning a dog. Even 14 hours max is animal cruelty I totally agree with FPC Humane Society Amy Carotenuto. Sorry that I could not attend the meeting but I appreciate all that showed up defending those that can’t do it for themselves!
Jim O says
So like our commissioners, they roll over when challenged. They also beg for your vote every few years.
They gave more time and thought to this issue than housing developments.
“If right now 80 percent of this county wanted pink mailboxes and I hated them, I’m going to have to accept pink mailboxes, because if I’m really representing you. I go out and do what you need to do.”
Oh, really, Mr. Mullins? Then why did you approve the too big development (Beachwalk) and boat storage facility when 100% of the people spoke against them? You voted for both of these, along with the rest of the commissioners.
I was also there when the dog tethering law was discussed, and of course that was voted down unanimously by our so-called “representatives.”
Don’t pretend you represent us. Your actions speak much louder than your words.
Why own a dog if you keep it outside 24/7 on a chain and doesn’t get any exercise, no interaction humans, outside in all kinds of weather, that is not what owning an animal is all about. This law needs to pass for the safety and humane reasons not to allow chaining of any animal. This is cruelty at its best and it needs to stop.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Many cities and counties throughout the country have banned tethering altogether and some have restricted tethering to dog being attended for short time with no lawsuits reported: Just read the facts. County, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell need to pass one single ordinance and there are tons to choose from below which are successful. unattended tethering should be a criminal violation no ands, ifs or buts:
It is absurd and totally inexcusable in my opinion for any unattended tethering to be allowed anywhere in Flagler County. Furthermore I hope that the county passes a caveat to the ordinance that anyone adopting or purchasing a dog must sign that they will never tether their dog unattended and to do so can result in the dog being taken away from then.
Hoopla, catering to the AKC, etc and all the “what ifs” are sheer nonsense. If you can’t treat your dog like a child you shouldn’t have one. If you chain your dog unattended it should be taken away from you.
County employee says
Once again Mullins is back pedaling and misrepresenting his initial intentions. He should go back to where he came from and let someone truly invested in Flagler County run for his spot. We don’t want carpet baggers.
He’s a flip flopper. Votes one way then when there’s outrage and media coverage he’s there to support the opposition.
Mullins likes to place himself in Trump’s circle, blaming liberals and the media. Got news for you “you are not Trump”
Being sarcastic, rude etc to the residents here will not get you re-elected.
Don't Chain Me Bro says
When the meeting attendees tried to ask Mr. Mullins how the AKC insinuated themselves into what should have been a County decision, he got very defensive and borderline hostile and sputtered, “Is THAT what you want this meeting to be about? That’s fine. If you want the meeting to be about THAT, okay. I thought you wanted to move forward, but we can change what this meeting is about if that’s what you want to talk about.” Wow. Deflection much?
His million dollar smile was gone, and a nasty, petulant side peered out. How dare we question how outside influences could play into decisions made by our elected officials? Oh, wait – isn’t that what HE promised to do when elected? “Hello, Swamp. This is the kettle. You’re swampy.”
John dolan esq. says
Suggest tether mullins to fire hydrant.
DOGS ARE BETTER THAN PEOPLE ❗️🇺🇸