Johnson City approves new animal control ordinance on first reading

David Floyd • Oct 17, 2019 at 10:19 PM

Out of roughly 4,600 dogs and cats taken in by the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter in 2018, about 3,100 were adopted.

“When you do the math, that’s still leaving a lot of animals in the shelter,” Assistant City Manager Bob Wilson told members of the Johnson City Commission during a meeting Thursday night, “and the shelter is typically at capacity.”

In that same year, the shelter managed to return 500 dogs and cats to their owners, but another 500 were euthanized, most of them being cats.

The commission approved on first reading a new ordinance proposed by the city’s Animal Control Board that is designed to help the shelter better manage the local animal population, reducing the number of animals moving through its doors. The changes would also phase out the chaining of animals in the city.

The commission will need to approve the ordinance two more times before it goes into effect.

“What we’re trying to do with this ordinance is improve the life and improve the safety of our animals,” Wilson said.

Under the new policy, all dogs would have to be registered on an annual basis, which would be more frequent than the current three-year registration period. The ordinance would also add a “nominal” registration fee.

The ordinance will also make it easier for the shelter to spay or neuter stray animals, allowing the facility to fix them after a 72-hour waiting period.

“During that period the staff will make extensive efforts to contact the owner,” Wilson said.

There would be exemptions to this policy, allowing owners to get a certificate that enables them to avoid having their animals fixed.

The ordinance will also seek to eliminate the practice of chaining animals to fixed posts.

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, dogs or puppies could only be tethered for a maximum of 12 consecutive hours per day, according to the ordinance. The animals must have appropriate housing, access to food and water and be safe from attack by other animals. The city encourages owners to use a trolley or pulley system to tether their dogs, which would give them freer range of movement.

Starting Jan. 1, 2021, the ordinance would require that no dog be left unattended while tethered or chained outside. Dogs and puppies can only be tethered to a fixed object if the animal is under observation by its owner. After Jan. 1, 2021, failure to comply with these changes will result in a fine. After three violations, the ordinance says owner will have to surrender the animal to the shelter.

Christy Rabetoy, who co-chaired the task force that put together the ordinance, is the founder of Chain Free Dogs. In the last five years, she said the organization has taken 160 dogs off chains in Johnson City and Washington County.

Rabetoy told commissioners she doesn’t have a problem with owners who bring their dogs with them into the backyard and put their dogs on a tether while they do yard work. 

“What we have a problem with is 24/7 chaining in all weather, not bringing them in,” she said, which is a practice that experts say can cause dogs to become more aggressive.

Wilson told commissioners earlier this week that the local shelter operates on a tight budget.

About 41%, or $451,000, of the shelter’s roughly $1.1 million in revenue comes from local government entities. Of that figure, Johnson City provides about $250,000, Washington County about $200,000 and Jonesborough about $1,000. Currently, about 26%, or $290,000, of the shelter’s revenue comes from fundraising and general donations. About 22%, or $247,000, comes from restricted donations.

Shelter expenses have increased from about $529,000 in fiscal year 2015 to a peak of about $1.22 million in fiscal year 2018. Projected expenditures in fiscal year 2019 are about $1.1 million.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said there’s currently thousands of animals housed in the shelter and the local Humane Society because of residents who bring in their unwanted litters and owners who can no longer care for their pets. This ordinance will help decrease those totals.

“The Animal Control Board feels we just can’t sustain a model like this going into the future — keep building more space and requiring more money from both the government and from very generous donors who give to the care of these animals,” Brock said.