Animal control ordinance adopted

January 31, 2001

Animal control ordinance adopted

By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer
see also: New animal control ordinance

The Washington County Commissioners, after two years of discussion and 20 drafts, narrowly adopted a revised county animal control ordinance Tuesday.


"It is a big step in the right direction," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook later said.

Among other provisions, the new ordinance:

- Gives animal control officers more authority and responsibilities.

- Clarifies the responsibilities of the Animal Control Authority Board.

- Increases license fees.

Earlier versions of the ordinance irked some.

The first version would have reduced from five days to three the length of time the Humane Society of Washington County would have been required to keep strays before allowing them to be adopted or euthanized. That limit was removed after pet owners complained.


The Humane Society handles animal control for the county.

Until recently, the Washington County Farm Bureau opposed the proposal, but last week a bureau spokesman said members were satisfied.

The ordinance includes a general exemption for farm animals. That exemption was not included in an earlier version of the ordinance, sparking criticism from farmers and the Farm Bureau. The version presented Tuesday had an exemption but it was narrower, County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger asked Steve Ernst, a Clear Spring farmer and spokesman for the bureau, if he and other officials were still satisfied with the present draft.

"We're smiling," replied Ernst.

In the hallway after the discussion, Douglas and Ernst shook hands, each thanking the other for his work on the issue.

The vote to adopt the ordinance was 3-2 with Commissioners William J. Wivell and Paul L. Swartz opposed.

Wivell repeated his opposition to the ordinance, saying it was too broad and had the potential of becoming intrusive.

He also asked about the ordinance's financial impact.

Swartz said he thinks the wording of the ordinance is awkward and could be confusing to residents. It also is not "animal friendly," he said, because it seems to criminalize pet owners.

The changes, except for license fees, will go into effect when the Animal Control Authority is revived. The Authority is inactive and new members will be appointed. New fine amounts will take effect at that point.

The new license fees go into effect July 1.

The ordinance will be reviewed in six months, Snook said.

Tuesday's decision followed a Jan. 23 public hearing at which 12 people spoke.

It was the third public hearing on an ordinance proposal since January 1999.

The intent of the changes are to update and modernize the ordinance, necessary because the county has become more urbanized and residents live closer together, Douglas has said. The document was last revised in 1991.

The civil fines for ordinance violations will increase to as much as $25 for a first offense, up to $100 for the second offense and up to $250 for the third and subsequent violations. Currently, civil fines are $10, $25 and $50.

Swartz said the fines are too high and Wivell agreed.

Swartz suggested that animal control officers give a warning without levying a fine for the first verified problem.

With the consent of the commissioners, the ordinance was amended to say the animal control officers can, at their discretion, give a warning instead of a citation.

The ordinance was written in a way that would make it easy for all municipalities in the county to adopt it, Douglas said. All adopted the last version approved, he said.

A proposal to get state enabling authority to add criminal penalties to the ordinance has been rejected by the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

Related county zoning rules may also be amended in the near future, Douglas said. He wanted the animal control ordinance to be adopted before the county acted on the zoning ordinance, he said.

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