By CHRIS MANSON
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) met last Tuesday for a second public hearing concerning an amendment to the existing animal control ordinance. Last month, the BCC sent the draft amendment back to Animal Control to work on specific items like leash requirements for dogs and cats, pet dealers and “puppy mills,” and the transportation of animals.
Again, District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows expressed concern for a lack of a spay and neuter program in the county. She asked the Animal Control team to research the availability of grants for such a program.
The transportation section of the amendment forbids the transport of dogs, cats, and other pets in open beds of vehicles unless the animals are enclosed in a carrier or tethered by a collar or harness. The item also makes it illegal to transport animals in temperatures above 90 degrees or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said she did not disagree but wondered how the ordinance would be enforced. Animal Control representatives said violators would be confronted after two or more complaints and a sworn statement had been filed. Comander also expressed a need to educate the public about the proposed amendment. Christopher Mitchell, public information officer, was tasked with getting information out. He said the draft would be posted on the county’s Web site.
During the public hearing, Blue Mountain Beach resident Emmett Hildreth challenged the draft’s definition of public beaches. He requested a dialogue with the BCC to discuss private property rights. “Walton County cannot convey ‘title,’ can’t just pull out of the air that (certain areas) are public when people own deeds to the property,” said Hildreth. He asked the BCC to remove or amend that section of the document.
Two other citizens addressed this concern.
Bill Bard, of Santa Rosa Beach, reiterated a suggestion he made a month ago at the first public hearing – using a Dade County ordinance as a model. He said the Walton County draft was “very weak” when it came to taking care of animals. Bard added that tethering is inhumane for dogs as well as children and cited statistics on children killed by dog chains. He told the BCC that the Latin definition of “dog” was incorrect and brought up the specific needs and public safety issues surrounding “wolf dogs” in the county.
Bard also said the pet dealer portion of the document did not adequately address puppy mills.
Laurie Hood from the Alaqua Animal Refuge said there were “a lot of things people weren’t happy with in this ordinance.” She proposed establishing a committee of citizens to scrutinize the draft and volunteered her services to establish a spay and neuter program. “There are a lot of funds available,” said Hood.
Meadows was amenable to most of these suggestions and motioned to appoint a committee to further explore the draft. County administrator Ronnie Bell recommended setting a timeline for the committee and clarifying exactly what changes needed to be made to the document.
The BCC agreed to further discuss the animal control ordinance amendment at its next meeting, to be held May 13 at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.