DURHAM — After two years of discussion and debate, county commissioners passed a ban on dog chaining Monday.
The new ordinance goes into effect for both city and county residents in 2010.
Durham now becomes the second Triangle jurisdiction in which dogs cannot be tied up or chained outdoors. They instead must be brought indoors or placed inside an enclosure, such as a fence or large pen.
Dog owners who continue to chain their animals after Jan. 1, 2010, will be given warnings. After July 1, 2010, they will face fines ranging from $50 to $150 if they fail to comply. If they are faced with criminal charges, the penalties could be more.
The public debate on whether to create such a law in Durham began in 2006 at the urging of the InterNeighborhood Council, which represents more than a dozen communities.
Proponents of the ban say chained dogs can become more aggressive and dangerous, their constant unhappy barking can be a public nuisance, and forcing an animal to spend its life on the end of a chain is just plain cruel.
Cindy Bailey, Durham's animal control director, said Monday that in nearly 20 years in the field, most of the cases she sees of animal cruelty result from a dog being chained and not being able to reach its food, water or shelter. Often, a dog can be injured by its chain, she said.
Other dog owners were skeptical.
"Making people take their dogs off chains isn't going to make them treat their dogs any better," said Michelle Lennon, a Durham resident who said she has five dogs, which she trains for agility competitions and other events. Many of those against the ban said it is possible to chain or tether a dog in a responsible, humane way.
Effect on the poor
The most influential opponent was Commissioner Lewis Cheek, who cast the board's only vote against the ordinance.
He said low-income residents who could not afford to build fences could be adversely affected, including the elderly on fixed incomes.
"Sometimes their pets are the closest thing they have to a loved one," Cheek said.
But Cheek was outvoted 4 to 1 in favor of the new law.
Amanda Arrington, head of the county-appointed committee that wrote the new ordinance, smiled and hugged supporters after the vote.
"This is not a cure-all, but it's a step in the right direction," she said. Arrington is also the founder of the Coalition to Unchain Dogs, a nonprofit group that has built fences for 115 chained dogs in the past year and a half.
The group has agreed to continue its work in Durham County in support of the ordinance, as much as its funding will allow. Last week, the group raised about $6,000 in a fundraising concert and has raised about $50,000 since its inception almost two years ago, Arrington said.
The group spends about $250 on average to build a fence for one dog, Arrington said.
Though some critics of the ban were dubious of the group's ability to serve all of Durham's chained dogs, Ellen Reckhow, chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners, was optimistic.
"They have agreed to rise to the challenge," Reckhow said. "I think we have a lot of time to get the word and help families that need assistance."
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