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Robin Keough, representative and volunteer with Luv 4 Animals, attended the Dec. 14 Upshur County Commission meeting to propose a new ordinance that would make it easier for animal control officers to enforce existing animal welfare laws. (Photo by Monica Zalaznik)

County considers animal welfare ordinance, but officials say more research is needed before action is taken

BUCKHANNON – A representative from LUV 4 Animals asked the Upshur County Commission to adopt a new animal welfare ordinance as temperatures continue to plummet.

Robin Keough, representative and volunteer with Luv 4 Animals, attended the Dec. 14 Upshur County Commission meeting to propose a new ordinance that would make it easier for animal control officers to enforce existing animal welfare laws.

“We’re lucky here in West Virginia because we do have animal welfare laws, but I’ve been told by law enforcement people that [the laws] are very vague, and they’re difficult to enforce, and my interpretation of what adequate shelter is, is different from other people’s,” Keough said.

“State code says any county commission can adopt ordinances, rules and regulations providing for the custody and care of animals that have been abandoned, neglected or cruelly treated for the protection of any such animal and to prevent it from becoming a public nuisance or risk to the public health or the environment,” she continued.

West Virginia Code Chapter 7, Article 1, Section 14 states any county-enforced ordinance can set requirements for the provision of adequate food, adequate water, adequate shelter, adequate space, adequate exercise, and sufficient veterinary care.

“I don’t mean any disrespect to the animal control officer because I think they’re doing a great job, but they have told me that the law is vague,” Keough said. “Law enforcement people deal with black and white; they want it in specifics; they do not want to interpret the law when they are on a call.”

Examples of guidelines in the ordinance Keough proposed included detailing the proper way to feed dogs, including providing them with a bowl and not leaving food on the ground.

“One of the things we addressed is sanitation for the dogs; debris needs to be picked up, the feces need to be picked up – it’s just not healthy for puppies to be living in that kind of environment,” Keough said. “Someone called me about an eight-week-old puppy that was chained out in the middle of winter and that distressed the neighbors – everyone who went by there – said it wasn’t right, but the animal control officer couldn’t do anything because it was not against the law or an ordinance.”

(Inside city limits, there are laws that detail guidelines for the treatment of domesticated animals, specifically Ordinance 424.)

At Thursday’s meeting, Jan Cochran, director of the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility, said animal control officers will also give owners a chance to fix the problems they find.

“They don’t usually just take the dog because they would overflow us; they give them a timeframe to improve it, and then they go back out, and they check in, and if the person doesn’t change the problem, we get the dog,” Cochran said. “That does upset some people.”

Upshur County Commissioner Doug Bush said he didn’t know if he wanted to place extra restrictions on residents living outside city limits.

Upshur County Commissioner Doug Bush weighs in on a proposed animal welfare ordinance that would apply to areas in the city outside city limits.

“I get a little bit cautious when we start adding more rules; I love my animals, but I’m also loving my freedoms,” Bush said. “I have a little bit of a problem when I hear my neighbor’s bear dogs, but we have to be really cautious when we start adding more restrictions to our community.”

Keough said she doesn’t want to be overly punitive, but she does want to protect the animals in Upshur County who are vulnerable to potential mistreatment.

“I tried to keep it simple, so this is not meant to be punitive toward dog owners, but it’s meant to be a tool to help law enforcement officers when they’re out there,” Keough said. “I don’t think they’re going to go out there looking for infractions measuring the length of the [dog] chain, but when they get a call that people are complaining and concerned about the animals, it will just give them a better framework with which to use their professional judgment.”

Upshur County Commissioner Kristie Tenney asked if other counties had implemented similar ordinances, and Keough said there were other examples in the state. The commissioners agreed to look over the ordinance Keough presented, discuss the issue and vote on its potential implementation.

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