Sunday, July 7, 2013

Werewolves in Goochland?

There are probably no werewolves in Goochland, but there are a host of critters beyond the usual suspects of horses, dogs, cats, goats, chickens, llamas, and pigs. Then there is the Devil Monkey, who has been keeping a low profile lately.

At a July 2 workshop on animal control policies, Goochland’s supervisors had an eye-opening discussion about animals that do and may live in the county.

Norman Sales, county attorney, presented options for bringing the county code into compliance with state law in this area and presented the Board with alternatives for enhancing county rules on the matter. An interesting discussion ensued.

Animal control policy is complicated. In addition to regulating the number of a particular animal permitted per acre, the placement of kennels, for instance, on a parcel of land is also important, especially where the neighbors are concerned.

In the past few years, episodes of suspected animal hoarding resulted in gross mistreatment of those animals. Tightening county laws will address that issue while not impeding the good work of rescue groups like FLAG.

Dr. Jim Lavender, who is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture to own exotic animals, discussed the complications of regulating dangerous critters, which include venomous and constricting reptiles. Lavender described the extensive measures he takes to ensure that his animals are well treated and not a danger to citizens. His most important rule, Lavender contended, is no public contact of any sort.

“They are here, you have them,” Lavender said of exotics.  If the animals are never displayed, USDA regulations may not apply. He suggested that the county look at federal regulations on exotic animals as a starting point for county law revisions.

An overview of what nearby counties consider “exotic” was presented. The supervisors were exploring their options in an effort to be proactive. The Devil Monkey aside, there have been no “issues” with exotic animals in the county.

However, that could change. Animal control officers Corky Marks and Tim Clough reported that they are getting calls from exotic animal owners in other counties that have adopted strict exotic animal regulations wanting to know if they can move their critters to Goochland.

Chesterfield does not generally permit its residents to own exotic animals. Certain exemptions are granted for circuses, veterinary clinics and the like.

Hanover allows exotic animals, but requires a permit. They have strict requirements about securing the animals, which are allowed only in areas where the keeping of such animals is consistent with the character and nature of the neighborhood, whatever that means.

Other localities do not have exotic animal ordinances.

Regulation of exotic animals is currently being contemplated only for public safety purposes. Law enforcement officers must know where these animals are and understand that they are empowered to kill these animals should they escape and threaten the population. House fires, when animals may be loose, are a special concern.

Ned Creasey District 3 asked if dangerous snakes are regulated by any governmental agency.

Lavender said there is no USDA overview of reptiles, birds, and poisonous spiders whose venom is deadly.

He believes that the county needs to regulate snakes; ensure that there is no public contact with them; and require that these animals be kept in welded steel, rather than glass cages. Antivenin, to counteract bites by venomous exotics should be available at area hospitals.

Right now, explained County Administrator Rebecca Dickson, anything pretty much goes in Goochland with regard to exotic animals. Sales will research the possibility of including venomous and constricting reptiles in an exotic animal control ordinance.

Lavender also warned about hybrid animals, such as the product of cross-breeding lions’ and tigers, which are enormous and totally unregulated. Wolves are another concern.

Noise implications of animal control were discussed. Since the county’s noise ordinance was declared unconstitutionally vague, residents made miserable by loud neighbors have begged the county to find a way to control noise. According to Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew, the worst offenses are caused by a handful of people at both ends of the county.

One possibility is to make noise complaints civil, rather than criminal offenses, which would make it easier to sanction the noisemakers. More work will be done on the noise issue.

A local show dog breeder asked the supervisors to exclude local show breeders from the commercial kennel category when crafting ordinance revisions. While these breeders may sell an occasional puppy, they are not primarily in the dog selling business.

Proposals for new ordinances will be prepared for the Board’s review and action in coming months. Bob Minnick District 4 suggested that citizen input is an integral part of crafting ordinances that are reasonable and effective for the benefit of all concerned.

Before the supervisors can vote a proposed ordinance into law, at least one public hearing must be held.








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