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Laws on animals may be well-meaning, but not right

March 11, 2012
Morning Journal News

Do animals have rights? Are they entitled to the same care and treatment as humans? Should government have the right to tell us how many pets we can have and how we should care for them? And, should county municipalities consider passing ordinances banning the chaining of dogs outdoors?

Issues surrounding animal ownership rights surfaced in the last week in both Salem and Wellsville. In both instances, action taken and action requested seem to be blurring the lines between human rights and animal rights.

Salem City Council on Wednesday passed on final reading an ordinance limiting the combined number of dogs and cats permitted in a residence to five.

Is that really what people expect their town council to be doing? Sure, we've all seen and heard of the cases of animal abuse and neglect where the pet owner was harboring a large number of pets. The stench and the noise emanating from these homes is a nuisance for neighboring residents and law enforcement has the right to put an end to this and charge the owners with violations.

We realize, too, that when individuals lack enough common sense to limit the number of animals to that for which they can provide adequate care, society must step in and set limits.

But should council have the right to arbitrarily assign the number five to designate how many pets are allowable and tolerable in a household? What if none of these pets is kept outside of the residence? Many cat owners do not allow their pets outside. They may have five or more cats using litter boxes and unless you visit inside the home you may not know of the cats' existence. With proper maintenance of litter boxes even multiple cats may not be detected.

In other words, if no one is complaining, does council have the right to tell you how many pets you can own? If someone is complaining, then set up an ordinance for nuisance declarations and enforce it, don't just throw out a random number and set this as the pet ownership limit.

And what about people who already own more than five animals? Are they "grandfathered in" or exempt from following the new law? Or will the animal patrol stop by and confiscate "Fluffy" if the owner has one cat over the limit?

Salem council's focus should have been on writing and enforcing laws for cases that have become nuisances, not imposing arbitrary limits.

Meanwhile, in Wellsville a "Break the Chain Gang," has been formed to gather signatures on a petition encouraging village council to pass an ordinance that would prohibit dog owners from chaining up their pets outside for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Here, again, there are multiple problems with this proposal. First, how will officials monitor situations to be sure the dog is chained for 24 hours a day? If a dog is turned loose for a few minutes per day is that enough to comply with the law?

The ultimate goal of the "Break the Chain Gang" appears to be not allowing dogs to be kept outside at all. Columbiana County Humane Society agent Jan Palmer, who is spearheading the movement, said, "the health of a dog that is left outside instead of inside isn't going to be as good mentally or physically. They're not well taken care of because they're isolated from the house."

We disagree with that statement. Not all dogs that are chained outside are neglected, in fact many are very well cared for, and some types of dogs prefer to be outside.

What about well-cared for dogs kept inside a fenced-in area? By her statement, Palmer seems to be suggesting they want to prohibit dogs from being kept outside, period, regardless of whether they are chained or in a pen.

Some canines need to be chained or kept in a pen for their own safety. Loose dogs can wander onto roadways and be struck by motor vehicles. They may also pose dangers to humans as well as livestock and other pets.

And, again, what about the rights of the pet owners? Does government have the right to tell you that you must keep your dog inside just because some organization doesn't like it? The goal of the "Break the Chain Gang" movement is nothing more than another attempt by animal rights groups to go too far and place animal rights ahead of human rights.

Palmer's job as humane officer is to prevent animal neglect and abuse. Whether a dog is kept inside or out should not matter to her or anyone else unless the animal is being abused, and being kept outside does not automatically constitute abuse.

Wellsville council should think long and hard before creating an ordinance that is a blatant violation of pet owners' rights and Salem council should reconsider its pet number restriction.



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