The Town of Smyrna Public Safety Committee is looking into creating an ordinance to amend the town's law on animal cruelty to include a section regarding the tethering of dogs.

Smyrna Police Lt. Norman Wood gave a presentation on the tethering of dogs during the committee's meeting Thursday.

Wood proposes that the town create a section in the animal cruelty ordinance that bans the tethering of dogs unless the owner is out with them.

Wood and Police Chief Wil Bordley said there isn't an issue with tethering in town; the goal is to prevent it. There was a recent incident when a dog owner chained a puppy and its mother out during a snow storm, and officers asked for the owner to take the animals in. Tethering could become an issue during the summer months.

"There are more than 100 communities in more than 30 states that have passed laws to regulate tethering animals," Wood said.

Wood said there are several issues with tethering animals, which include dogs becoming territorial and aggressive. Attacks on people by tethered dogs have been documented, Wood said, and typically the victims are children who are unaware there's a chained dog until it's too late.

Wood showed several pictures in the presentation to show impacts of tethering dogs. One pictured showed a tethered dog that jumped a fence and hung there and died. Other pictures showed dogs that had been tied up with a rope and left there so when the dogs grew and the rope wasn't loosened, it dug into the skin.

After researching ordinances in other towns, Wood decided on one created by the City of Miami as he felt it best represented Smyrna and best suited pets in the area.

"Basically what this says is you can't tie a dog outside unless you're outside with it," Wood said.

Furthermore, if a dog owner is going to tether a dog while they are also outside, there are strict guidelines for how to do so. The proposal doesn't limit a dog owner from putting a dog in a kennel.

Last year, Gov. Jack Markell signed into law Senate Bill 211, which amended the definition of animal cruelty to include tethering a dog for 18 hours or more in any 24-hour period. The law also banned the tethering of young dogs or nursing mother dogs, regardless of how long they are tethered.

Wood said the issue with the state's law regarding tethering is that it's hard to enforce.

"In order to enforce it, an officer or an animal control officer has to sit in front of the house for a 24-hour period and see how long the dog was out and then he takes it to court and at that point the only thing they give them is a warning," Wood said. "After that, they can sit for another 24-hour period and watch because if you leave, it gives the owner a chance to say 'But I took the dog in for a while.'"

The committee members decided to do more research and continue discussions at their March meeting. If they're happy with Wood's proposal at that meeting, the committee members will forward it on to the town lawyer to put the proposal in ordinance form to be presented for consideration by Smyrna Town Council.

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