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Speakers debate new animal control law

January 19, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

A public hearing for a new Washington County animal control law drew about 25 people to Tuesday's meeting of the Washington County Commissioners.

The new law proposed by the Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals removes some loopholes from the law, which was last revised in 1990, said Executive Director Shelly Moore.

Some of the eight speakers felt the changes were excessive while others said that it did not go far enough.

"Let's put some teeth into the law," said Jack Wetzel Sr. of Funkstown. A $10 fine for a violation is not large enough to be meaningful, he said.

The proposed law increases the fines to $25, providing more "teeth" and a larger deterrent, Moore said.

A controversial proposed change sparked fears that owners' pets would be euthanized if they do not act fast enough.

Under the proposed change, the length of time the shelter would keep strays before making them available for adoption would be cut from five days to three.

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If there is no room at the shelter, the animals could be euthanized after three days, Moore said.

Most animals are reclaimed within 48 hours so the time period should not cause problems, she said.

"Three days seems like an awfully short time," said Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger.

People can't always get to the shelter within three days, said Angie Harsh of the St. Francis Shelter and a former member of the Animal Control Authority.

Moore said the change would speed up the adoption process and reduce the risk that animals would catch diseases from each other, Moore said.

If animals are going to get sick from being in the shelter five days then they probably would get sick in three days, Harsh said.

Moore said she understands the subject is an emotional one, but said some of the speakers were misinformed.

The proposal re-establishes the Animal Control Authority, giving it more guidelines and more power to address residents' complaints, Moore said.

Under the proposal, the SPCA or people making animal nuisance complaints could petition the authority, a five-member, unpaid advisory board. Pet owners or complainants who don't like the board's answer could appeal to Washington County Circuit Court.

The authority could issue civil fines as well as order animals to be euthanized.

The last board of Washington County Commissioners saw that the law needed changes, which is why vacancies on the authority were not filled, said Gregory I. Snook, commissioners president.

The proposal will go back to the commissioners in a few weeks with some changes made in response to public comments, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

Written comments on the proposed law will be taken for 10 days. Letters may be sent to the commissioners at 100 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, MD 21740.




related story: Proposed animal control law

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