March 06, 2013The Crawford County Board of Commissioners, to the applause of most in the packed courtroom at the judicial complex in English, Thursday night ended discussion on an ordinance that would have required "proper shelter" for dogs and cats.
The potential ordinance was first brought up at the commissioners' November meeting by Tanya Tuell, founder of River Valley Humane Society and coordinator of the Spay and Neuter Assistance Program in Harrison County and who has helped initiate a SNAP effort in Crawford County.
Tuell, who has worked with the Crawford County Sheriff's Department to rescue neglected dogs and cats for the past couple of years, had requested consideration of the ordinance following the retrieval of several dogs earlier that month.
The dogs, she told the commissioners at the time, were living in a small wired pen that didn't include a gate. Uncovered from the elements, the ground inside was a "mud pit," Tuell said, adding there were only two doghouses and several broken pieces for the nine dogs, two males on one side and seven females on the other. In addition, she said, the seven females shared a small water pail, which was full of mud when she was first there.
Calling the dogs' living conditions among the worst she had seen, Tuell said the ordinance, which is identical to one in Harrison County, would assist law enforcement officers by providing them a better definition of what is a viable shelter and what isn't.
The ordinance defined "proper shelter" as having:
•Four sides, including one with an opening large enough for an animal to enter;
•A floor that is elevated off the ground and is secured and a roof that does not leak or allow accumulation of moisture;
•Enough room for the animal to stand completely erect without touching the top while completely allowing the animal to turn around and stretch out when lying down; and
•Means of shade from the heat and straw bedding or other means of protection from the cold.
The ordinance also would have required each animal to have adequate food and water, and violation of any part of the ordinance could have resulted in a $100 fine.
However, before the proposed ordinance could gain traction, concern arose that it would put too much of a burden on animal owners and potentially would open the door to restrictions on livestock, including horses and goats.
Cara Beth Jones, of Marengo and the group Protect the Harvest, which represents livestock and small pet owners as well as hunters and fishermen, voiced opposition at the commissioners' Dec. 31 meeting.
Jones then printed a copy of the ordinance in a full-page advertisement in the Feb. 20 issue of this newspaper that also asked animal and pet owners to attend the Feb. 28 commissioners' meeting and to ask them to spend tax dollars "on helping pets and pet owners — not making more criminals and lawsuits."
Having answered her call, the majority of those in the full courtroom last Thursday night stood when Jones asked everyone who opposed the ordinance to stand. Many followed by verbally expressing their displeasure.
One man referred to the ordinance as "just a bunch of B.S." Another, despite the commissioners being the only ones able to do so, made a motion the ordinance not be voted on things be left the way they are currently. That was followed by someone adding, "I second it," and another saying, "I third."
Many people said abuse and neglect of animals shouldn't be tolerated, but that doesn't mean punishing responsible animal owners because of the actions of a few, especially when laws already exist.
Jones told the commissioners that, wanting an independent review of the ordinance, she had an Evansville law firm read it. The firm, whose entire response was read by Jones, agreed that laws already exist to protect animals. She then held up nine pages of state laws that deal with animal neglect and cruelty.
Saying that the proposed ordinance would limit freedom, Jones also read part of the Indiana Constitution.
"So, we are trying to protect your rights. Someone said it isn't about rights, but, folks, it is about your rights," she told the audience, which broke into applause.
Tuell, who said she hadn't planned to speak about the ordinance and that she was at the meeting to promote the SNAP program, said her goal in proposing the ordinance was to help animals. In the case of the November dog rescue, she said, all the owner would have had to have done to comply with the state law was to place a tarp over the pen. However, that wouldn't have helped much, she said.
"Let me just ask you just one question. If you have a chained or penned dog that is confined, I mean, do you all believe that the dog should have a doghouse?" Tuell asked, as someone answered yes. "Because that's not what we're finding. I mean, I've got case after case that I have personally handled in Crawford and Harrison County.
"So, that's what I'm saying. I felt like we needed this ordinance here. Maybe we don't. Maybe the sheriff and everybody feels like, you know, they've got enough to go on with the state law. That's all we were trying to accomplish. There was nothing else."
April Minter, of Leavenworth, who was dressed in a dog costume to help Tuell promote the SNAP program, also noted that the ordinance had nothing to deal with livestock.
"All this ordinance was about was these dogs," proclaimed an impassioned Minter, adding she was among the volunteers who helped in the November dog rescue.
Following the approximately 30-minute discussion, District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius made a motion that the commissioners abolish the ordinance.
"Before I respond to Dan's motion," District 3 Commissioner Jim Schultz said, "I would just like to say that, for one, Tanya has put a lot into Crawford County in assisting us here, and I think her motives are very pure. I don't think she has any underlying motives in connection with this ordinance. I think she truly just wanted to protect animals, and I think that's what she was motivated by.
"I'm going to second Dan's motion, but I did want to make that statement," he said. "I do appreciate her work and her efforts that she has put into our county.
"I'm going to vote 'yes,' " Randy Gilmore, president of the board, said, "because I do think the law enforcement has the power, as stated in the state laws, to take control and do something about these animals. It's the landowner, folks. I hope it isn't one of you out there, but if you're treating an animal that way, you should be arrested."
Crecelius agreed, saying that more laws are not the answer.
"I think everybody's on the same page," he said. "We don't want to see animals treated bad. We don't want to see them mistreated or cruelty being done to animals, but we also just need to use a little bit of common sense in what we do."