Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 9, 2013

Tazewell County residents speak out on amendment to animal law

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — Approximately 100 people attended the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors to discuss the implications of a new amendment to the county’s animal control ordinance Tuesday regarding the prohibition of nuisance barking.

The board opted not to vote on the ordinance in light of the volume of comments on the ordinance and said they would vote during the February meeting. The ordinance would update some terminology in the county’s ordinance as well as clarify animal cruelty, adoption and animal care related to laws already in place under the Code of Virginia.

Local attorney Eric Whitesell, who also drafted the ordinance, made a presentation to the board including playing audio clips of barking dogs he said interrupt the tranquility of Tazewell County.

“These people are victims of irresponsible dog owners,” he said. “It is the same as school yard bullying. It disrupts the peace and has a victim: the tax-paying resident of Tazewell County. The responsibility of owning a dog is not buying a dog, attaching it to a chain and leaving it in the yard. This ordinance exempts hunting dogs while they are hunting, agriculture dogs used for herding and guarding livestock, and for training dogs.”

Whitesell said county residents could bring a civil suit against the owners of barking dogs but he felt protecting the peace is the “purpose of the government.” Whitesell said the cost of a private lawsuit to a citizen would be a minimum of $10,000 and could spend months in the courts. Eastern District Supervisor Charles Stacy said several residents had mentioned to him concerns that county law enforcement would be distracted from protecting homes and businesses in favor of handling nuisance barking complaints. Whitesell responded by stating residents could record the barking on their own and that nuisance barking would be enforced at an officer’s discretion.

Betty Wallace of Tazewell, Va., is a dog owner but is in favor of the ordinance.

“We cannot have friends over because of the noise and the smell,” Wallace said. “I have my dog trained. He will let us know that someone is at the door, but beyond that he doesn’t bark.”

Gary Shrader of Tip Top, Va., said he owns eight dogs and rescues them from abuse.

“These dogs were not properly socialized, but they are turning into good dogs,” Shrader said. “The reason I am here is because my neighbor had a dog tied up in a cage, it’s aggressive and when it gets loose it attacks other dogs and people. This is what this nuisance ordinance is about. It is not about dogs barking when someone is walking up the road. This is for when the dog is being neglected. We attempted to talk with neighbors and my reward was a no trespassing notice.”

However, many residents said they felt the nuisance barking ordinance would do more harm than good. Bill Buck of Richlands, Va., felt the ordinance was violating the rights of dog owners.

“I can tell you he doesn’t own a dog,” Buck said. “My neighbor’s dog woke me up two months ago, but I was glad because there was a man trying to steal from my wife’s car. There are fellows in this room who love our dogs and who love our peace, too. I like to keep my dogs under control. We are responsible dog owners and take care of our dogs as good as we do as our families. We spend money in this county buying tags, buying dog food and we shouldn’t have one neighbor who tells us whether or not our dogs can bark.”

Leroy Long of Tazewell, Va., also disagreed with the ordinance.

“I moved here in 1980 and I feel very blessed to be able to live in this community,” Long said. “I vehemently disagree with what Mr. Whitesell had to say. I take an exception to being called a bully because I am a dog owner. Being a dog owner is a responsibility but is also a right. I know 90 percent of the gentlemen here tonight are hunters who take care of their dogs. I would also like to say we are talking about a noise ordinance. I choose to live in the county because it is a rural agricultural area. I accept this noise as part of the community in which I live. It is just the way things are. I chose to live here, so I accept that. The next step is enacting a mooing cow ordinance or a crowing rooster ordinance. We have to make sense.” Kim Richards of Bandy, Va., said his dog is a house dog and does bark on occasion.

“I went to my neighbors to ask them if my dog was bothering them, and they said they thought their dogs were bothering us,” Richards said. “The people who have proposed this don’t have dogs. Our police force has more important things to do in this county than chase down barking dogs. We have children screaming because they are being beaten that neighbors turn away from, but they are angry about barking dogs. My dog may be a nuisance, but that is none of my neighbor’s concern.”

After being ceded two minutes from his wife, Whitesell spoke to rebut some of the concerns expressed, saying the ordinance was more focused on nuisance than prohibiting all dogs from barking.

“I have nothing against dogs and nothing against dog owners as long as they have due regard for the constitutional rights of others,” Whitesell said. “Right now I can’t hear the sound of cows mooing and roosters crowing because of all the dogs barking. It goes on for hours and you don’t hear anything else. It’s not right.”

Northwestern District Supervisor Seth White said with or without the ordinance the sheriff’s department can already investigate cases of animal cruelty and said he was certain the sheriff’s department would be willing to investigate any incidents of cruelty.

The board also unanimously  passed the second memorandum of understanding with Bluefield College regarding the new dental college to be built at the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park.

The board also reorganized for the new year appointing Western District Supervisor John Absher as the board chairman and Eastern District Supervisor Charles Stacy as the vice-chairman of the board. Meeting times were also set for the first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m.