Dog owners who keep their pets outside without proper shelter between December and April or in freezing weather could face fines under a proposed law before the Howard County Council.
A proposed bill introduced this week, similar to one adopted in neighboring Baltimore County following the hypothermia death of a dog, sets fines of up to $300 for repeat offenders and spells out the size and type of outdoor shelters, length of a tether and the amount of time a dog can be out in the cold unattended.
Some animal-rights advocates say the proposal from Councilman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, doesn’t go far enough in protecting dogs from extreme heat.
Cats are not covered by the proposed regulations but a spokesman in Weinstein’s office said the issue of tethering cats hasn’t been raised. A hot-weather mandate was not included, Weinstein said, because county code already requires owners to provide an animal with shade.
The councilman, a dog owner, said his bill was prompted by concerns voiced by constituents.
Howard County received 127 calls alleging animal cruelty in 2017, according to county police, the department that oversees animal control officers.
The county requires dog and cat owners to license their pets each year. There are 9,644 active dog licenses, the county said.
Maryland counties have been tightening requirements for leaving dogs unattended outside, according to Tina Regester, a spokeswoman for Maryland SPCA Inc., a Baltimore-based animal advocacy nonprofit.
“It is becoming a positive trend that’s long overdue,” Regester said. “And many counties are starting to look at their ordinances on this issue and it really stems from their constituents. They’re worried about pets left outside during very warm or cold temperatures and they’re speaking out.”
Laurie Wallace, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, is urging a hot-weather requirement and a provision requiring that dogs have access to unfrozen water in the cold.
Rachel Bellis, manager of local affairs in the cruelty investigations department for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said legislation should include a warm weather requirement. She said temperatures above 80 degrees can become dangerous for dogs left outside for extended periods, especially if they do not have adequate access to water or shelter.
Weinstein’s legislation would allow the Howard County animal administrator to send out social media and internet alerts to dog owners. The alerts, Weinstein said, could announce when extreme weather is anticipated, remind owners of the law and offer animal-care tips.
Police and animal control officers would have the power to issue tickets of $100 for a first offense, $150 for a second offense within two years and $300 for a third, according to the legislation.
The legislation would prohibit dogs from being left outside unattended for more than 30 minutes without proper shelter between Dec. 1 and March 31 or when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.
The proposed law stipulates the size of an outdoor dog shelter and the length and type of tether used for a dog. Shelters must to be large enough for a dog to adjust its position, have insulation to maintain the dog’s temperature and tethers would have to be at least five times the length of the dog and weigh less than an eighth of the dog.
Weinstein said the bill leaves some ambiguity in the size and material used for dog shelters so that officers can enforce for individual situations.
The law would be in effect between Dec. 1 and March 31 or when temperatures dip below 32 degrees.