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The importance of keeping pets contained on your property

One of the major responsibilities of pet ownership is keeping pets within the boundaries of one's property.

The Carroll County Code of Public Local Laws and Ordinances has specific regulations for keeping dogs in the confines of one's property, including stating that such animals must be kept restrained or under adequate control at all times.

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The old saying, "good fences makes good neighbors" applies to dog owners. Options to keep dogs contained on a property include installing secure visible fencing, which can be expensive; however, some neighborhoods might have restrictions regarding fencing.

Even with fencing, dogs can escape if a gate is accidently left open or if they succeed in jumping, climbing over, or digging under the fence.

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Another option is to have an electronic fencing system installed. This might be less expensive but has several drawbacks, including: training the dog to learn the boundaries and experience the electric shock from the system's collar — which might instill fear and adversely affect the dog's behavior and temperament; power failures shutting down the system; replacing the collar's battery periodically; and the serious threat of other animals — wild and domestic, including stray dogs — entering the property, which may trigger the dog's prey drive, resulting in an electric shock, the dog's disappearance, serious injuries or death. If the dog tries to re-enter the property, it will receive another electric shock.

Tethering a dog to a tree, post or dog house has its limitations. Because dogs are social animals, a dog that is tied outdoors away from its "pack" — its humans — feels isolated and craves human attention, causing it to bark and howl continuously, which disturbs neighbors. The dog becomes frustrated and perceives people or animals — even from a distance — as a threat and eventually show signs of aggression if a human or another animal approaches, possibly resulting in injuries.

Consequently, when an aggressive tethered dog gets loose, it becomes a very real danger to the community. Tethered dogs must have access to shelter, clean water and food, and should have daily opportunities to interact with their humans with enrichment activities such as safe games, positive obedience training and socialization. Tethering limits dogs' ability to seek protection from the elements and relieve themselves in a clean area. It also makes them easy targets to be attacked by stray dogs or wildlife and be stolen by thieves searching for "bait" dogs used in the inhumane, illegal blood sport of dog fighting.

Dog owners who rent their homes are limited to the containment choices of tethering or frequently walking their dogs on leashes.

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Free-roaming cats can be a nuisance to neighbors whose gardens become outdoor "litter boxes," which can cause the transmission of diseases to humans.

Cats also have a profound impact on wildlife, particularly bird populations. Indoor/outdoor pet cats still possess predatory instincts that erupt at the sight of birds and small mammals.

To comply with Carroll County animal laws and keep pets safe, citizens can do the following:

• Microchip dogs and cats to increase the odds of recovering their pets if they get loose. In addition, dogs must be licensed — Maryland state law — and the tag should be attached to the dog's collar.

• Install traditional fencing.

• If electronic fencing is used, remember to replace the dog collar's batteries.

• Always supervise dogs, even if they are contained in fenced-in areas.

• Examine and repair weakened fencing that can increase the chances of escape.

• Check for open gates daily.

• If fencing is not an option, dogs must be walked on leashes and owners must clean up after their dogs by using poop bags and disposing of such bags in lidded trash cans.

• Train dogs to "come" on command using positive training methods — food or toys — and practice this life-saving skill daily. Consult with a certified trainer for assistance.

• Cats live longer, healthier lives when kept indoors. To provide cats with safe outdoor time, they can be trained to walk wearing a harness and short leash.

• To give birds and other wildlife a chance for survival, put breakaway collars with bells attached on cats. There are also commercially manufactured collars like the colorful "Birdsbesafe" collar covers, which allow birds to see cats from a distance.

What you can do if you find a loose dog or cat:

• If the animal is calm and friendly, check to see if it is wearing a collar with tags — ID, rabies, license, microchip — and contact the owner if possible. If no information is available, deliver the animal to the Humane Society of Carroll County, 2517 Littlestown Pike, Westminster, during business hours. Call 410-848-4800 or place the animal in an after-hours pen.

• If an animal behaves in a dangerous manner or is severely injured, call the HSCC —even after hours — and leave a message for the 24-hour answering service so an animal control officer can respond. Provide a description of the animal, as well as its location.

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