Editorial: City, county animal abuse rules need consistency

Stepped-up enforcement of animal cruelty allegations in Bartholomew County have put renewed attention on a disturbing problem recently while also showing a need for consistency in how pets and their owners are treated, regardless of whether they live in the city or in the county.

With cold weather bearing down, it’s a perfect time to revisit how we treat our pets individually and as a community.

Here’s a timely example: the sight of dogs left chained up outdoors in frigid weather, sometimes even without shelter. This is a situation that’s beyond chilling — it’s cruel and it’s dangerous — yet it’s an upsetting sight we still see from time to time.

A couple of years ago, Columbus passed an ordinance requiring dogs be sheltered when the temperature falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a good, commonsense regulation for animal owners to abide by, and it isn’t too much to ask of county residents who own dogs.

Bartholomew County should adopt this Columbus ordinance so that pet owners and animal control officers have clear and consistent expectations, at least where this potentially deadly circumstance is concerned.

Furthermore, the city and county would do well to work together to develop comprehensive minimum standards explicitly clarifying what constitutes animal cruelty and neglect.

We see from 911 activity that animal control units are dispatched numerous times every day (too often for allegations of animal abuse), but they may lack clear guidance on when an enforcement action is merited, or even when a pet owner has crossed a line. These officers understandably have broad discretion, but when a condition is obviously dangerous — such as leaving an animal chained outdoors in the freezing cold — animal control officers must have the authority to act in the animal’s best interest.

Recently, county commissioners were asked by a group called “Change 4 Bartholomew County – Animal Advocacy,” which has more than 700 members, to restrict the length of time dogs may be continuously tethered or chained outdoors. They suggested adopting a Florida county’s rules that forbid dogs from being chained for more than eight hours in any 24-hour period, among other things.

Other members of the group urged the county to specify through clear language in its ordinances what constitutes animal abuse.

We agree that changes are needed. So is consistency.

The city and county have an opportunity here to act boldly to set some basic minimum standards to prevent the abuse and mistreatment of pets, and clearly, plenty of people of good will are eager to help. Our leaders should appoint a panel of community stakeholders to not only rewrite vague regulations, but to raise the expectations we set for pet owners. Let this be a democratic process from the ground up that considers many voices and points of view with the simple goal of making this city and county a great place to be a dog or cat.

Maybe that’s all pie-in-the-sky thinking.

But let’s agree right now to a first basic minimum standard, for dogs’ sake: Don’t leave your dogs chained up out in the freezing cold. That should be a rule that doesn’t end at the Columbus city limits.