Asheville City Council

“With good intentions … we’re giving a lot of attention to dog poop.”

So noted Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower during Council’s Sept. 10 formal meeting. Although his comment was delivered somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Mumpower’s observation (made during a public hearing on revamping the city’s animal-control ordinance) nonetheless underscored the prosaic nature of municipal governance: Sometimes, to help everybody get along, you’ve got to get down to the nitty-gritty. Even if it stinks.

But the hearing wasn’t merely a debate about canine road apples. In fact, much of the evening’s discussion focused on how to address a far more serious problem: dog owners who let their animals roam free, and dogs attacking people.

During the public-comment portion of the hearing, Asheville resident Star Smart delivered a shaky, tear-filled account of one such attack. While working in her yard one day, she noted, a neighbor’s dog came onto her property and mauled her. She then stepped aside from the lectern and pointed to the deep scars on her legs that serve as a constant reminder of that day. Star also spoke about how her 4-year old son, who witnessed the attack, still bears emotional scars. And though the dog was destroyed, Star charged that justice still has not been done.

“Animal Control never even contacted me,” she complained, adding, “I’ve got over $5,000 in medical bills.” Explaining that the dog’s owner had refused to help pay those bills and had stopped communicating with her altogether, Star revealed, “I can’t even get an attorney to take my case for a civil suit.” She closed her remarks by noting that while she still lives with her trauma daily, her neighbor “got a new puppy already.”

Star’s mother-in-law, Shirley Campfield, angrily lashed out at a system that she feels shows little concern for victims, declaring: “This dog had no shots, no registration, no leash. … And they won’t even let me take out a warrant against the owner. There has got to be justice!”

The changes to the ordinance include: requiring that all dogs be leashed except when on the owner’s property (currently, an animal can be off leash as long as it’s under its owners’ control); stricter enforcement of the existing registration-and-licensing requirements; requiring a permit to house more than six dogs; and direct Police Department involvement in the event of a dog bite (such calls are now handled by the Asheville Humane Society under contract with the city; a newly created APD Animal Services Unit will assume those duties). Another new rule, added in response to complaints from downtown merchants and residents, prohibits dog owners from tethering their pets to public property (such as posts or parking meters).

In an interview with Xpress, Assistant City Attorney Curt Euler commented that the changes are a way to “streamline the animal-control process and tighten the language of the existing ordinance to better serve the public.” He also noted that there would be a public-education component to help animal owners understand their responsibilities.

One member of the public, however, cautioned Council members that passing a law doesn’t always produce the desired effect. Asheville resident Bernie Wolfe quipped: “Don’t throw out the puppy with the bath water. You can’t legislate good parenting — for children or animals.” Her comment highlighted concerns shared by other pet owners who want to maintain a balance between order and fairness. Wolfe also noted that pettravel.com (a Web site providing information for folks who like to travel with their animals) lists Asheville as a “pet-friendly city.” She suggested that the city consider providing an alternative to tethering animals to public property. Telluride, Colo., she explained, offers “puppy parking” — a place where people can safely leave their pets while visiting the downtown.

Police Chief Will Annarino explained that the tightened ordinance comes in response to the actions of a small number of animal owners who disregard the current law: “It boils down to folks who don’t care about the people around them. You have a lot of very responsible owners, but you’ve got to strike a balance.”

With that in mind, Council voted unanimously to adopt the changes, which will take effect Oct. 1.

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