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URGENT - Final Vote Mon. 1/9 on Shelby County, TN Law that Outlaws Dogs in Vehicles Under Certain Circumstances

(Friday, January 06, 2012)

The Shelby County, TN Commission will hold a third and final vote on proposed changes to the county animal control ordinance on January 9, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. The proposed ordinance includes a provision that would make it a violation to leave a companion animal unattended in a vehicle for more than one hour when the outside temperature is above 70 degrees or below 35 degrees. It is appreciated that the commission included an exception to this provision for animals participating in dog shows, sporting events, or trials, but this exception does not extend to pets that are safely secured in vehicles for more than one hour during family outings, travel, overnight stays, training classes, or other events.

As written, the temperature and time requirements in this provision would potentially criminalize:

- Local pet owners who include their pets in family activities and who, for any reason, leave their pets safely and comfortably within their vehicles for 61 minutes or more.

- Travelers who safely secure their pets in their vehicles while visiting Shelby County restaurants, shopping, hotels, and other attractions.

- Visitors in motorhomes with pets who utilize the numerous RV facilities in Shelby County.

These arbitrary temperature and time restrictions are unwarranted and ineffective for several reasons. A dog negligently left in an enclosed vehicle in direct sunlight on a hot day can suffer injury or death in far less than 60 minutes. However, there are countless circumstances under which a well-cared for pet may be responsibly left in a vehicle for more than one hour when the temperature is above or below the extremes stated in the proposed ordinance.

It should also be noted that existing Tennessee state law (39-14-202(d)) allows seizure of the vehicle and its contents when a person is taken into custody for transporting or confining an animal in a cruel manner. Tennessee state law (39-14-210(a)) empowers the president of any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals that is incorporated in the county to appoint agents to make arrests for offenses involving non-livestock animals in that county. It unclear how these state laws would apply to violations of the time and temperature provisions in the proposed Shelby County ordinance. Click here for the State Attorney General’s opinion on these issues under state code.

The American Kennel Club supports fair and reasonable laws that protect animals. We are concerned, however, that this ordinance may unreasonably impact responsible owners who temporarily secure a dog in an adequately shaded and ventilated vehicle during hot weather. Further, the proposed ordinance provides no exceptions for pets kept inside temperature-controlled vehicles such as motorhomes. Additionally, a dog inside a vehicle is well protected from wind and winter precipitation. The ordinance does not consider steps an owner may take to provide warm bedding or a pet sweater (if needed) for a dog secured in a vehicle while the owner shops, enjoys a meal in a restaurant, or while travelling during cold weather.

How you can help:

Concerned citizens of Shelby County are encouraged to immediately contact county commissioners to politely request that the ordinance be amended prior to the final vote to delete the time and temperature restrictions. Non-residents may wish to state that the time and temperature restrictions, if enacted, will cause them to bypass Shelby County when travelling with their pets.

The contact number for county commissioners is (901) 222-1000. Email addresses are listed below.

Pet owners are also encouraged to attend the county commission meeting and express their concerns. Call the commission office at (901) 222-1000 for information about submitting a Request to Speak Card.

Meeting Information:
Date: Monday, January 9, 2012
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Place: Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building, 160 N. Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103

Shelby County Commissioners:
Phone (901) 222-1000

Sidney Chism, Chairman
sidney.chism@shelbycountytn.gov

Wyatt Bunker, Chairman Pro Tem
wyatt.bunker@shelbycountytn.gov

Steve Mulroy, Commissioner (ordinance sponsor)
steve.mulroy@shelbycountytn.gov

Walter Bailey, Jr., Commissioner
walter.bailey@shelbycountytn.gov

Henri E. Brooks, Commissioner
henri.brooks@shelbycountytn.gov

Melvin Burgess, Commissioner
melvin.burgess@shelbycountytn.gov

Justin Ford, Commissioner
justin.ford@shelbycountytn.gov

James Harvey, Sr., Commissioner
james.harvey@shelbycountytn.gov

Mike Ritz, Commissioner
mike.ritz@shelbycountytn.gov

Terry Roland, Commissioner
terry.roland@shelbycountytn.gov

Heidi Shafer, Commissioner
heidi.shafer@shelbycountytn.gov

Brent Taylor, Commissioner
brent.taylor@shelbycountytn.gov

Chris Thomas, Commissioner
chris.thomas@shelbycountytn.gov

For questions or more information, please contact AKC Government Relations at (919) 816-3720 or doglaw@akc.org.

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