Citizens Bark but Cecil County Commish Still Don’t Heel on Proposed Animal Law
Cesar Milan, the â€śdog whisperer,â€ť where are you when the Cecil County Commissioners need you?
After a nearly two hour public hearing last week and hundreds of emails and phone calls from pet parents voicing concerns about a proposed new animal ordinance, the Commissioners clashed Tuesday as they attempted to re-write the proposal, yet again, after a three-year review of the countyâ€™s animal laws.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report and analysis here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/06/cecil-county-animal-law-good-intentions-run-a-costly-amok-zoning-issues-ignored/ ]
The commissioners appeared to reach agreement on one of the more contentious provisions cited by citizens at the public hearing: a requirement that all dogs crossing the state line into Cecil County must have a â€śhealth certificateâ€ť signed by a veterinarian. Owners of weekend homes in the county and organizers of dog shows and a â€śdry landâ€ť dog sled competition held at Fair Hill have protested that the provision was unfair and would drive tourism dollars out of the county.
The proposed ordinance also would require a veterinarian-signed â€śhealth certificateâ€ť for any animal â€śbeing given awayâ€ť and states that â€śany animal found without the required certificate of health shall be impounded and quarantinedâ€ť and the owner fined $500.
Commissioners Board President James Mullin (R-1) said the county law should â€śjust refer to the state code thereâ€ť instead of creating a higher standard under county law.
The state code on health certificates â€śrefers to livestock,â€ť noted Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) â€śItâ€™s not someone coming down from Pennsylvania for the weekend.â€ť The state law also does not impose a health certificate mandate on private, â€śfree to good homeâ€ť pets that are given away.
Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) said that, as written, the county proposal â€śsays all, there are no exemptionsâ€ť and he warned that inclusion of a separate health certificate mandate in the county code was â€śa deal breaker for meâ€¦ end of storyâ€ť and must be removed.
Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) initially seemed to agree that the county provisions should be removed and instead just a reference to the state law mentioned. But at another point she opined, â€śI think itâ€™s important enough to keep it in our codeâ€ť with exceptions for special events.
Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) was absent. The remaining commissioners said they would check the state law further, although the lineup of Hodge, Moore and Mullin in favor of deleting the section and just referencing the state law indicated a decision against a county health certificates mandate.
Meanwhile, Hodge insisted that references to dangerous and nuisance dogs throughout the ordinance should be changed to â€śanimals,â€ť so as to include cats. â€śThis is another deal killer for me,â€ť he said. â€śCats should not get a free ride in this ordinance,â€ť he said, citing the recent incident of a cat that turned out to be rabid attacking people in Port Deposit and citizen complaints of neighborsâ€™ roaming cats that destroy property.
Glaring, Broomell asserted that including cats was a â€śway to gut this whole ordinance.â€ť
Moore responded that â€śeven without cats,â€ť the enforcement provisions were â€śnot affordableâ€ť for county taxpayers.
Then Broomell flexed her political muscles on a provision aimed at the current animal control contractor, the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc., (CCSPCA) which provides services under a fixed-price contract that has been frozen in funding for five years.
The ordinance proposes to penalize the animal control contractorâ€™s monthly payments from the county by 5 percent for each day a proposed oversight panel thinks the contractorâ€™s reports of animal control activities and expenditures are insufficient. Since the oversight panel is proposed to meet only quarterly, the contractor could be penalized for much of the year.
(For years, the CCSPCA has given monthly reports on complaints, calls for service, and disposition of animals to the county government and detailed quarterly financial reports. But they have usually not been looked at by county officials.)
Hodge, county attorney Norman Wilson and County Treasurer Bill Feehley said such provisions should be in a contract with the animal control services provider, not in an ordinance. They pointed out that any negotiated contract provisions that differed would then require a costly time consuming process to hold hearings and revise the whole ordinance.
Hodge said the unilateral penalty provision â€śdoesnâ€™t have anything to do withâ€ť an animal law and was â€śunfair and illegal.” Moore said the provisions â€ścould be very arbitrary.â€ť
But Broomell dug in her heels, claiming, â€śI have heard from the publicâ€ť that the provision was needed in the ordinance. In fact, there were no comments at the public hearing on the penalty provision. Furthermore, Broomell said, if the animal control contractor doesnâ€™t like it, then â€śthey donâ€™t have to sign a contract.â€ť
Mullin piped up, â€śI donâ€™t think it does any harm to leave it in thereâ€ť in the ordinance.
Then Broomell tried to muscle through the penalty provisions, saying that the absent Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) â€śgave me his proxy.â€ť But she was advised that such a so-called proxy was not a legally acceptable step in consideration of the ordinance.
Mullin quickly made an excuse for Dunn, saying that he â€śwent home sick, he got an air conditioning cold on the weekend.â€ť Dunn appeared healthy a few hours earlier at the commissionersâ€™ morning general worksession and did not exhibit symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, or use of tissues.
The Commissioners still left a lot of issues unresolved and Mullin said they would meet again to â€śmark this up again.â€ť
Left unresolved was the major controversy of â€śhobby kennelsâ€ť that would force families with ten dogs to obtain special annual licenses ($50), submit to application fees ($50), annual inspections of their homes and inspections of mother dogs and their puppies. Speakers at the public hearing questioned the legality of the provisions and noted that owners of just two dogs who had a litter of eight puppies would suddenly be subject to the hobby kennel rules, even if they had no plan to sell the pets but wanted to give them away.
Broomell and Mullin indicated they wanted to keep those contentious provisions while Moore and Hodge did not.
[Disclosure: The editor of Cecil Times has adopted pets from the Cecil County SPCA and in the past was an unpaid volunteer board member.]