Leonardtown, MD – Tim Frink was bicycling on Jones Road in Hollywood. Too late, Frink remembered, that he had been chased once before by a large dog on the same stretch of road. Sure enough, the same dog bolted off its property and started chasing the 60-year-old man. He was unable to outrun the dog which stopped right in front of him. To avoid a collision, he swerved, slid and suffered multiple abrasions and contusions that sent him to the hospital.
Luckily Frink, who is executive administrator of Our Father’s House Assembly of God Church, didn’t receive any broken bones. But he was still hurting when he appeared a day later at the May 17 public hearing for the proposed St. Mary’s County Animal Control Ordinance. He was wearing the same jacket, now tattered, that he had on at the time of the incident. He pleaded with the county commissioners to put more teeth in the ordinance to give animal control officers more authority to control dogs running at large.
At the same hearing former St. Mary’s County Commissioner Dan Morris told of his two pugs being attacked multiple times in their own yard by a Chesapeake Bay retriever. During one of the attacks his wife was injured. Morris said a judge had ordered the owner to walk the dog on a leash and muzzle but that still hadn’t happened. Morris also asked for a stronger ordinance.
Both Frink and Morris are animal lovers. They don’t blame the dogs. They blame the irresponsible owners for what has happened to them. They were two of eight speakers at the public hearing who were generally critical of the document being presented to them.
The proposed Animal Control Ordinance supplants one adopted in 2008 which County Attorney George Sparling said the county lacks authority to enact and thus has no force of law. He set about crafting a “basic” ordinance that he said he thought struck a balance between protecting the animals and the property owners. The legislature last year gave the county authority to enact an ordinance
But, judging from the testimony at the hearing, the document needs more work.
Testifying at the hearing were representatives of the national organizations Alley Cat Allies and the Humane Society of the United States, along with representatives of the local groups St. Mary’s Animal Welfare League (SMAWL), Feral Cat Rescue of Southern Maryland (FCR) and the St, Mary’s County Farm Bureau.
Melinda Brown of Mechanicsville, representing SMAWL, said the county would have been better off going back to the 2008 ordinance and adopting it. Brown said SMAWL was especially troubled by the lack of inspection authority for kennels by animal control officers. Sparling has said that responsibility belongs to groups such as SMAWL. But Brown said her group had no such ability “We are not authorized or trained to do inspections,” she said.
Brown urged the ordinance to address the Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) philosophy of groups committed to protecting feral cats from mass euthanasia. Alley Cat Allies is the national group that supports feral cat organizations. Alice Burton of the group said she had family in Southern Maryland and offered her organization’s support in whatever the county needed.
Diane Harris of Mechanicsville, FCR president, noted a decline in the numbers of cats being euthanized at the Tri-County Animal Shelter since her organization has been operating. She said more than 80 percent of survey respondents favor TNR over euthanizing feral cats.
Humane Society of the United States Maryland State Director Emily Hovermale followed up an earlier email to the commissioners with testimony at the hearing. She said the ordinance’s lack of a license for dogs and cats would put St, Mary’s as the lone county in the state without one. She said the license is a good way for the county to insure that rabies vaccines are4 administered.
She said while Sparling had included references to a number of state laws that cover animal control, he missed the important felony animal cruelty provision. And picking up on the concerns of the other speakers, Hovermale said the proposal would make St. Mary’s the only county in which animal control officers couldn’t impound dangerous dogs.
The proposal for animal control regulations comes close on the heels of discussions in all three Southern Maryland counties about the abandonment of the regional shelter in Hughesville in favor of each county having its own shelter. Drema Ballengee-Grunst of Leonardtown heads a group called Give Me Shelter St. Mary’s County, that is hoping to assist the county in establishing its own.
Ballengee-Grunst, who is also a member of SMAWL, spoke at the hearing. She noted that what was being discussed addressed a “human problem” for without irresponsible human behavior there would be no need for the regulations.
Ballengee-Grunst said that Sparling’s modeling his proposal after state regulations was not wise since the state is listed as 46th for appropriate animal control regulations. She said adopting the regulation would be “moving backward” for the county.
St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau President Jamie Raley also spoke. While he said his organization generally favored the proposal, he asked for a better definition of farming in the regulations. He said he appreciated the distinction made in the proposal between domestic and farm animals.
The commissioners will leave the record open on the proposed Animal Control Ordinance for seven days before deciding what to do next.
Contact Dick Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org