Pasco commissioners need to put some bite into their animal cruelty rules. After hearing critical comments from 11 people Tuesday afternoon, the commissioners unfortunately succumbed to obfuscation. They backed away from a proposed ordinance in order to try to placate the objectors, many of whom identified themselves as "hobby breeders.'' It is an unnecessary delay to a well-intentioned plan promoting humane treatment of animals. The ordinance, modeled after rules in other localities, cracks down on unsanitary breeding conditions and prohibits people from tethering unattended dogs outside.
"If you have that pet, you have to take the time to care for it,'' urged Animal Services director John Malley.
His logic, however, was overshadowed by much of the public debate from animal breeders who contended, absent documentation, that such rules would cost the county tourists, promote neighborhood disputes, and follow the same ill-fated path as a Marion County ordinance subjected to a legal challenge.
Nonsense. The Marion County ordinance drew a legal challenge because its "dangerous dog'' definition conflicted with state law. It had nothing to do with required permitting for breeders and antitethering provisions. The so-called hobby breeders, whose animals produce only two litters or less than 20 offspring annually, are exempt from the ordinance's planned inspection and permitting requirements. And only Commissioner Jack Mariano wrongly believes preventing animal cruelty will foster unwarranted complaints from bickering neighbors.
A more legitimate concern is the county's plan to prohibit animal sales at flea markets, a provision that could unfairly penalize a business at an enclosed, air-conditioned flea market in Hudson. The commission is correct to re-examine that idea, but it shouldn't budge on the required inspection of the breeding location.
The commission now plans to consider the proposed ordinance in separate meetings, but the contentious items won't be voted on until late January. Instead of a delay, they should expedite the antitethering provision, which will forbid owners from tying an unattended dog to any tree, post or structure.
Constraining a dog in such a manner is a danger to both the animals and the community. Malley has painted a gruesome picture of the cruelty that can result. He told commissioners about a dog left alone outside tethered to a tree. The dog died of strangulation after running around the tree several times. Tying unattended dogs outside also leads to more aggressive behavior from the animals, forcing them to defend their territory rather than flee an intrusion.
The proposed ordinance is a sensible and humane way to curb potential abuse. The commission shouldn't hesitate to adopt these rules that its staff has spent two years developing. Dog owners have no greater responsibility than to ensure that their pets are safe and secure, and commissioners shouldn't be a party to delaying these protections.