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Commissioner Jim Bunting says ordinance should stay the same; vote unanimous

 (Feb. 8, 2019) After much discussion, the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to leave as is the county’s animal control law regarding cold weather.

Since Jan. 7, the county’s animal control officers have responded to 17 complaints about animals left outside in frigid weather, County Attorney Maureen Howarth told the commissioners. Of that number, 15 people corrected the situation and two resulted in the removal of dogs from the premises.

Commissioner Ted Elder did note that different dog breeds deal with cold differently. 

“If I have a husky that I brought here from Alaska that’s used to 20 [degrees] below zero outside, and you have a Chihuahua that shivers at 65 degrees, you know there’s quite a variance there, and you need that judgment written into the ordinance, and I believe it is the way it is right now and that’s why I agree with Commissioner [Jim] Bunting that we should go ahead and keep it the way it is,” Elder said.

The Public Safety-Animal Control bill was passed in October 2018, and established several clarifications for what constitutes appropriate outdoor conditions, tethering and restraints.

The bill also stipulates that an acceptable form of shelter for animals must have ventilation and be able to comfortably accommodate the animal. 

“A structure with secured sides, a roof and floor to protect the animal from the weather,” the bill said. “There must be a floor, free from rot and standing water, and dry and clear of debris, fecal matter and infestation.”

The bill also specifies what weather is acceptable for an animal to be kept outside. Unacceptable weather includes temperatures less than 32 degrees or more than 85 degrees, according to the bill. The bill also allows for conditions contributing to the cold and hot weather conditions such as rain, snow, hot pavement, or direct sunlight. 

Glen Grandstaff, chief animal control officer, said it took some time to get comfortable with the legislation, but based on an animal’s age, coat and size, “you [the county] has given us the authority to either request that they take the dog inside in question or whether it can remain outside.”

Howarth said that area residents contacted her and asked that the current legislation be amended.

“Why the hell did we pass this law of leaving a dog in 16-degree weather with just his house is OK?” Heather Melson Barhrami said in a Jan. 21 Facebook post.

Bahrami referred to “weather alerts in the area” and said “we have called [two times] on a dog on Franklin Avenue.”

Bahrami also tagged several agencies and public officials in the post.

Grandstaff said the dog was a 40-pound female pit bill. 

“It was my conclusion that the dog house in question was oversized for the dog being housed there. Although the house had secure sides and a dry floor along with fresh straw, it was just too large. The house was suitable for a dog upwards of 100 [pounds],” Grandstaff said in an email to Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins.

Commissioner Bud Church said he’s “become the go-to person for these folks who have concerns about their animals,” and suggested having an on-call agent if there are calls after hours.

Bunting came to Grandstaff’s defense, and said “some of the words, language and such you don’t deserve that.”

Bunting went on to praise Grandstaff’s efforts.

“I go in [the department] and you’ve got a number on the wall of how many animals you have adopted out, and you work every day to try and increase that number rather than having do the alternative,” Bunting said.

Bunting made a motion to keep the ordinance as is. Commissioner Ted Elder seconded the motion. The vote was unanimous.

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