There is no end to the laws governing the care and treatment of animals in Tennessee, but they differ depending on where the animals are housed. The state has established basic laws and over time localities have developed them, some more than others.
Counties should set the standard covering everyone who owns animals, whether or not they live in towns within the county. To that end, Sullivan County Commissioner Mark Vance has stepped up his efforts, and his action should be appreciated by those who insist on proper animal care.
Vance is sponsoring an “ongoing” resolution, which should consolidate, supplement where necessary, and enforce animal care and treatment regulations. It’s going to take a lot of work to get a finished product that covers, as much as possible, all the circumstances of care and treatment, with degrees of offensive treatment and penalties. This may be more work than can be handled effectively without additional help.
“It’s about holding people accountable and standing up for helpless animals that can’t defend themselves,” Vance told us.
He said the matter was brought to his attention by the sheriff’s office and county animal shelter workers and board members.
“I want a way to help our animal control and sheriff’s office staff be able to deal with animal neglect with some enforcement power to support them when they respond to those calls and find a dog entangled in a chain tied to a tree, with no water and no shelter,” Vance said.
Currently, those who respond to such a call only have the power to tell the pet owner that they need to do better, Vance said. It’s hard to believe the county has no enforcement powers beyond that. But if that’s true, Vance may need state lawmakers to get involved.
State law, according to Vance’s resolution, allows counties to regulate stray animals, including licensing, operating shelters, and establishing and enforcing rules with penalties not exceeding not $500 for each violation.
In some cases, a penalty of $500 may not be sufficient, such as when a person continuously abuses an animal for an extended period.
Vance’s resolution calls on the Sullivan County Commission to adopt a list of care standards “to ensure that our precious animals are cared for” and establishes regulations for animal care standards as “a step in the improving the quality of life of dogs, cats and animals and promoting safe neighborhoods and a positive quality of life for citizens and visitors.
The guidelines attached to the resolution are just a standard starting point provided as an example of what some other counties in the state have adopted, Vance said.
“I will be meeting with County Attorney Dan Street later this week to talk about the proposed rules and regulations and how the enforcement would work,” Vance said. “And I will speak to the county animal shelter board and the employees there. And the sheriff’s office.
This is a high priority and complicated assignment requiring extensive research and legal review.
We commend Commissioner Vance for his initiative and implore the county to employ a consultant to come up with a finished product that also meets the needs of the cities and would be a model for other counties.
With surrounding counties and municipalities in the same situation, a regional approach can best serve so that on this important issue, we speak with one voice and care with a unified heart.