Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 17, 2017
At the urging of Fernandina Beach Commissioner John Miller and Fernandina Beach Animal Rescue the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at the May 16, 2017 Regular Meeting considered an ordinance designed to prevent cruelty to dogs and cats. Ordinance 2017-17 prohibits outdoor tethering or restraint of dogs and cats, unless the animals are in the visual range of the owner and the owner is located outside with the tethered animals. The FBCC unanimously passed the ordinance on First Reading. It will return for Second Reading and public hearing in June.
City Attorney Tammi Bach said that for at least the last five years dozens of cities and counties across the state have adopted such an ordinance. She walked the commissioners through all the proposed changes, presented below.
Sherry Merritt, the city’s animal control officer, said that the current ordinance has been difficult to enforce because it states that an animal cannot be tethered for more than 10 hours a day. It would require an animal control officer to literally watch a property for 24-hours to determine how long the animal had been tethered. The elimination of that time limit would allow officers to respond quickly and take immediate action.
Octavio Martinez, owner/operator of Hot Paws on 8th Street, also addressed the FBCC on the need for the revised ordinance. From his background in working with dogs for more than ten years during which time he has trained and groomed dogs, raised show dogs, and worked with the local shelters on extreme cases. He said that working with dogs that are victims of long term tethering is worse than dealing with dogs that come from so-called puppy mills. He said that trying to rehabilitate dogs that have been tethered for a long time is fraught with problems, ranging from health issues to psychological issues. He said that dogs that have been tethered too long become aggressive and often cannot be rehabilitated. “People need to understand,” Martinez said, “it goes way beyond [looking at a tethered dog] and saying, ‘Oh, poor dog.’ Those dogs may never be able to have a normal life.”
Vice Mayor Len Kreger reminded commissioners and the public that this is a nuisance ordinance, and is complaint driven. Animal control officers won’t be routinely patrolling areas looking for violations. He said that during a recent Nassau County Board meeting the same issue was also considered. There the argument from some quarters was to eliminate all tethering to let the animals roam free. Kreger endorsed the city’s proposal as “a good interim step.”
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.