If you’re walking your dog in the unincorporated parts of Buncombe County, you’d better make sure Rover’s on a leash — unless, of course, your neighbors don’t make a fuss.
The new complaint-based leash law was just one of a number of new rules unanimously adopted by the Buncombe County commissioners at their Nov. 4 formal session. While that item sparked most of the discussion, the commissioners also changed several other parts of the county’s animal-control ordinance.
As it stood, the law had allowed pet owners to take their pets off their property without a leash — provided the animal was under the owner’s voice control. The change under consideration last week involved requiring that a pet be physically controlled when off the owner’s property.
The topic came up just four weeks after a neighbor’s pit bull attacked and mauled a 5-year-old boy in his Candler neighborhood; the incident seemed to color the evening’s discussion.
The long-running tension between the demands of personal freedom and personal responsibility, which also surfaced in comments by both county residents and board members, was ultimately reflected in the retooled ordinance.
Have gun, will jog
During the public-comment portion of the meeting, both Chloette and Scott Kuhlman, who live on Pinners Cove Road, argued in favor of a tighter leash law. Back on June 23, the family’s pet chihuahua was attacked and killed on their front porch by a neighbor’s dog — an incident that Chloette said broke her 17-year-old son’s heart.
“She was so loyal and just totally attached to him,” she told Xpress sadly during a break in the meeting, showing a photo of her son with the little dog.
Scott also argued for beefed-up enforcement, telling commissioners that when he was bitten by a neighborhood dog, Animal Control officers had told him that nothing could be done because his bite wasn’t bleeding. (Kuhlman said he’d pulled out a penknife and nicked the wound in front of the officers, but that didn’t help matters.)
And Peter Dawes, publisher of the monthly Mountain Guardian News and Opinion newspaper, told the board that the county ought to turn animal-control enforcement over to the Sheriff’s Department, instead of contracting those services out to the nonprofit Asheville Humane Society, because animal-control officers aren’t authorized to go onto people’s property.
“We don’t need a part-time organization running it,” declared Dawes. “They might do good work, but they’re not in the law-enforcement business.”
Meanwhile, county resident Steve Towe told the commissioners that he wears a holstered pistol (a Glock 19) while jogging to protect himself from an attack by a dog.
“There are people all over Buncombe County who do not obey the laws that you have passed, the ordinances that you have passed,” asserted Towe. “And why don’t they obey them? They don’t have any teeth.”
Animal Control officers, he told the commissioners, only came out to investigate a pack of stray dogs in his neighborhood in the past few weeks — after he’d called 12 or 14 times in the past year. Part of the solution, Towe maintained, is providing proper funding for Animal Control and deputizing its officers.
“Most people are selfish and greedy and manipulative and self-serving … and they’re not going to do squat unless you make ’em,” insisted Towe.
Philip M. Croll, however, voiced a different view, telling the commissioners that he sees no reason to change the existing law just because of “some bad dogs.”
“I’ve never been attacked,” stated Croll. “My neighbors have never been attacked.”
Several other people, meanwhile — including professional breeders — argued in favor of a “puppy-lemon law,” as well as requiring county residents to buy a permit if they want to keep dogs or cats that aren’t spayed or neutered.
Fair is fair
During the formal session, the commissioners had a cluster of questions for Environmental Health Director Layton Long about the proposed changes to the animal-control ordinance.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey was the first to weigh in, asking, “Are we going [to] go out in the county and cite people that are walking with their dog, and their dog’s not …”
“It is complaint-driven,” interjected Vice Chairman David Young.
Long concurred, explaining that the existing ordinance is “a little problematic” to enforce because people can simply claim that their dog is under their voice command.
“As long as nobody’s complaining, they can walk their dog,” observed Commissioner Patsy Keever.
She then asked how the new ordinance would be enforced. Long responded that officers would have the discretion to issue a warning before levying a fine. If they did impose a fine, however, it would be $50 for the first offense and $100 per incident for subsequent offenses.
Commissioner David Gantt, meanwhile, wondered about how equitably the ordinance would be enforced.
Long said it would be up to the Animal Control officer and his supervisor to enforce the ordinance fairly.
“What you’re saying is, basically, they try to use common sense,” offered Young. “It’s not tough stuff.”
In addition to the leash law, other proposed changes to the ordinance included:
• allowing an Animal Control officer to immediately impound a dog that has killed a human or inflicted life-threatening injuries on a person — or a dog whose owner has failed to comply with preventive measures in the past;
• defining someone who takes care of stray or feral animals as a “keeper” (which implies having the same responsibilities as an owner); and
• spelling out how to properly tether an animal.
The commissioners unanimously adopted the changes offered by Long. They plan to talk about further tinkering with the animal-control ordinance at an upcoming workshop, to be held at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 18 in the county’s training room, 199 College St. in downtown Asheville.
A draft of the ordinance can be found online by clicking on the agenda for the commissioners’ Nov. 4 meeting at www.buncombe.org/agenda.
The commissioners also took a number of other actions, including unanimously approving the following:
• a program to extend electronic house arrest (using global-positioning technology) to folks in the District Court system;
• issuing $17 million in certificates of participation for several capital projects, including a 32,000-square-foot addition to the county jail, renovations to A-B Tech’s Enka campus, construction of the new North Asheville Branch Library, and refinancing a number of recreation-related undertakings;
• a $7,911 matching grant enabling the Sheriff’s Department to receive $71,201 in federal funding; and
• a resolution opposing a proposal by UNC-Chapel Hill to raise its cap on the number of out-of-state students it can admit from 18 percent to 22 percent of the student body.
Tracy Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 251-1333, ext. 116.