A new animal ordinance written, signed and passed into law July 24th by Chattooga County Sole Commissioner Jason Winters has brought about significant backlash in the rural farming community where agriculture is the top industry and many people live specifically for the unincorporated areas that do not infringe on pet ownership.
According to the commissioner, the ordinance came about as a reaction to several complaints regarding a specific property where nearly two dozen dogs were being kept. “I know it was signed kind of spur of the moment…” said Winters, who was hosting a public meeting to explain the ordinance and seek input, “to help us with quantities and numbers and size of acreage.”
While attempting to address the animal abuse claims at the residence, Winters realized that existing laws would not allow much municipal intervention and a new ordinance would be required granting him authority to do something. The initial focus of the ordinance was to “restrict the number of dogs to less than an acre to three animals… dogs.” While Winters claims that many of the dogs were rescued, it is unclear exactly what was done with them and where they ended up.
For some reason, the ordinance took on a life of its own and grew far beyond the original intent. Winters confessed that, while the older animal control ordinance was being replaced by the new ordinance to handle one specific situation concerning the dogs, “…the major changes concern acreage and restrictions on livestock and number of livestock.”
“There are three acreage requirements that we put in place. Larger than 10 acres, there are no restrictions. Larger than two acres, but equal to or less than 10 acres, the No More Than 8 livestock animals shall be permitted on the property in size range or no more than 20 chickens. If both chickens and other livestock animals are kept, no more than eight animals total shall be submitted.”
“This is what we are wanting to try and get some feedback on as to what these numbers need to be. I’m the first to say, these restrictions may not work in our community and our county. And we just want to try to get this as close as we can.”
A primary issue with any animal control ordinance in the county may center around the lack of zoning. An ordinance that focuses solely on pets (cats and dogs) is different than a local law attempting to regulate livestock or other farm animals. The Chattooga Magistrate Judge, Tracy Maddux, addressed local citizens at the commissioner’s public forum and cited a portion of the Georgia Code dealing with general provisions of agriculture.
[According to O.C.G.A. 2-1-6. Preemption of local ordinances relating to production of agricultural farm products
(a) No county, municipality, consolidated government, or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt or enforce any ordinance, rule, regulation, or resolution regulating crop management or animal husbandry practices involved in the production of agricultural or farm products on any private property.]
Judge Tracy Maddux addresses the concerned citizens at the Animal Control Ordinance public meeting.
Posted by All On Georgia – Chattooga on Wednesday, August 23, 2017
In Chattooga County, there are currently no zoning restrictions in unincorporated areas. Zoning laws could be used to define what areas are residential and which are agricultural and then restrictions set on what animals could be kept in each zone.
Judge Maddux went on to emphasize that the animal control ordinance was drawn up nearly ten years ago and that he was very interested in improving the process for animal rescue in the county and determining what constitutes a “lawful practice” in terms of animal facilities and which may lead to issues of abuse.
Many people in attendance were concerned with the language of the ordinance and how their pets and livestock would be impacted. While the commissioner expressed concerns with the enforcement of the ordinance as it is written, local pet owners are still worried that a complaint from an angry neighbor could lead to the removal of an animal they see as a member of their family. There also many concerns surrounding the 4-H community and students who raise and show animals. There is further concern over what or who will define what a farm animal is, because in Chattooga County many people view their goats, sheep, chickens, cows, horses, pigs and rabbits as pets.
Winters made a brief statement and then read a portion of the ordinance and then allowed for public comments; however, he declined to take any questions. The commissioner alluded to another meeting in the future but no date was announced.