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Chatham County Adopts New Animal Control Ordinance

By Kelly Quimby

Posted May 12, 2017 at 5:27 PM

A new ordinance meant to govern responsible pet ownership in unincorporated Chatham County got approval from the county commission Friday.

In an 8-1 vote, the board on second reading repealed the first four articles of the county’s old animal control ordinance and replaced it with what staff called in a memo a more “modernized” version that better conforms to pet care standards.

Commissioner Jay Jones, who cast the sole dissenting vote, said after the commission’s meeting Friday he wanted more community involvement in the new ordinance.

Although county staffers did solicit comments from the public as they developed the new ordinance, some citizens echoed the dissenting commissioner’s concerns. Karen Hickman told the commission Friday that while she believes the ordinance overall is a move in the right direction, the changes approved Friday had not been made available for the public to review in advance of the meeting.

Another resident, Paula Wagner, who has attended every public discussion of the ordinance since the first reading March 24, complained on Thursday that the events scheduled for the public to give verbal comments on the proposal were held during work hours, when many citizens could not attend.

Wagner has repeatedly asked the county to consider a draft ordinance that she submitted, but the commission made no further changes to the version adopted this week.
Assistant County Attorney Jennifer Burns said Friday the approved ordinance had undergone one more revision since the board last saw it April 21. After taking into account public comments submitted after that meeting, Burns said staff defined the term “menacing” in the ordinance adopted Friday and changed terminology on a newly created animal control board to require a neutral hearing officer in cases involving whether to classify a dog as dangerous or vicious.

However, Burns said, the ordinance does not change the provision that prohibits cats from running at large. This has been a contentious issue among some citizens, including the authors of some recent letters to the editor in the Savannah Morning News. One of those letter writers, Wagner, said this week that it’s against a cat’s nature to stay on their owners’ properties or to stay under their owners’ manual control on a leash or in a carrier.
Even so, the assistant county attorney said the ordinance adopted Friday requires that cats - as well as dogs - be under the manual control of their owner outside of their owner’s property. The only exception is if other property owners, like neighbors, give their permission for cats or dogs to run at large on their property.

The ordinance will initially apply only to the unincorporated county, but staffers have said the hope is to get the municipalities to adopt similar ordinances to create a community-wide standard.

At the close of the discussion on the ordinance Friday, Commission Chairman Al Scott said he understands not everyone is happy with it, and he suggests residents who still want changes to contact their district representative on the county commission. “It’s not exactly like the tablets - it’s not etched in stone,” Scott said. “It can be amended.”



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