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The Johnson City Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold a third and final vote on Thursday, November 21, 2019 to enact an overreaching new animal ordinance.  Proponents of the ordinance state that they will immediately seek to pass this same legislation throughout Washington County.

AKC agrees with the city’s intent to protect dogs in the community.  However, we believe numerous provisions in the proposed ordinance are vague, overreaching, and not based in sound science. Click here to view the meeting agenda packet, which includes the proposed ordinance.  Here are just a few of the provisions of concern:

  • Ownership of an impounded pet is forfeited after 72 hours. The shelter is currently open to the public just 30 hours a week.
  • The provisions that require sterilization of an impounded dog or a dog owned by a person who violates provisions of the ordinance would be expanded.
  • Vague requirements for minimum enclosure sizes and dimensions would be established. 

Scroll down to view additional concerns with the proposed ordinance and AKC’s recommended amendments.  


Johnson City residents are encouraged to contact Mayor Brock and City Commissioners to politely express concerns and respectfully request that problematic provisions in the ordinance be removed or amended prior to a final vote.  Citizens may also wish to attend the Board of Commissioners meeting.

Thursday, November 21, 2019, 6:00 PM
Municipal and Safety Building, 601 E. Main Street, Johnson City, TN 37601


Mayor Jenny Brock

Vice Mayor Joe Wise

Commissioner Larry Calhoun

Commissioner Todd Fowler

Commissioner John Hunter

For more information, please contact AKC Government Relations at or 919-816-3720.

Additional Information:
The following is the text of AKC’s concerns with sections of the proposed Johnson City animal ordinance and recommended amendments that were submitted to the Board of Commissioners and city attorney on 11/20/19.  Additional concerns were expressed regarding the authority and powers granted in the proposal.  Contact AKC Government Relations at for more information:

The AKC advocates that dog owners bear a special responsibility to their canine companions to provide proper care and humane treatment at all times. Proper care and humane treatment include an adequate and nutritious diet, clean water, clean living conditions, regular veterinary care, kind and responsive human companionship, and training in appropriate behavior.

We understand that the intent of the proposal is to address abusive and neglectful situations wherein dogs are not provided proper shelter and care. However, we are concerned that the proposal would also criminalize accepted, humane care protocols utilized by the most responsible dog owners.  We recommend that the proposal be extensively amended so that a good dog owner with a healthy, well-exercised dog is not penalized because a kennel run is of the wrong size or dimensions or based on arbitrary temperature conditions that do not consider the breed, coat type and conditioning of the individual dog.  Further, any provision that provides for confiscation of happy, healthy pets based on arbitrary conditions or requirements should be amended or stricken.

The AKC respectfully requests that you consider the following concerns and recommendations, which we believe will ensure a fair, reasonable and enforceable ordinance in Johnson City:

Provide an appropriate time frame for owners to reclaim their dogs.  The AKC understands the challenge of shelters having to house a multitude of animals that are brought in. However, ANY dog that comes into the shelter would be forfeited after 72 hours.  Under numerous provisions in the proposal, an owner unable to reclaim a lost or impounded pet within the 5 to 15 hours that the shelter is open during a 72-hour reclamation period would lose ownership of their pet. No process of appeal is provided.

In practice, the 72-hour window to reclaim a pet could be as little as 5 hours if a holiday and a non-business day were on successive dates. As another example, if a pet escaped, was accidentally released from the home or fence, or otherwise came into possession of the shelter on a Tuesday morning, the owner might not know their pet was gone until after returning home from work. The shelter is not open on Wednesday. If a working owner was unable to reclaim the animal during the 5-hour period the shelter is open on Thursday, there would be no other opportunity and ownership of a beloved pet would be forfeited.

We recommend that the reclamation period be amended from 72 hours to “three business days”.  Further, for pets properly registered with the city, we recommend that the reclamation period be amended to provide that ownership shall not be forfeited until “three business days following notification to the owner”.

Clarify provisions regarding sterilization. Numerous sections of the proposed ordinance would require that impounded intact dogs and cats be sterilized. However, it is unclear across these various sections if escaped/impounded animals belonging to travelers or visitors, animals not subject to mandatory sterilization, and animals held or transferred into the city for impoundment pending the outcome of court cases would be sterilized after 72 hours or upon release to the owner.

Further, provisions under existing law that allow an owner to obtain an unaltered animal registration for an impounded animal are stricken in this proposal. We recommend that each section of the proposal regarding sterilization of impounded animals be amended to clearly provide that:

Unsterilized pets that belong to travelers/visitors shall be released unaltered to the owner or caretaker.

Pets that are not subject to or that are exempt from the sterilization provisions under this proposal shall be released unaltered to the owner or caretaker. We recommend that the Board of Commissioners establish escalating fines for pet owners who commit repeat offenses of allowing a dog to roam at large.

Sections of existing law that provide for the acquisition subsequent to impoundment of an unaltered animal registration be restored. Because the proposal provides for annual rather than lifetime registration, it would be reasonable to limit the acquisition of an unaltered animal registration subsequent to impoundment to one occurrence per pet. Maintaining this process will allow an unsterilized pet that is accidentally released, a pet that is stolen and discarded, or a pet that otherwise comes into the shelter for reasons other than its owner’s repeated offenses to be released and return home without being subjected to surgery.

Also, under the proposed ordinance, a paperwork error by the owner of an unaltered dog, a recordkeeping error by the WCJC Animal Shelter or its various designees, or any offense regardless of severity by the dog’s owner would be penalized by requiring sterilization surgery to be performed on the dog—even if the dog continues to qualify for an exemption to spay/neuter requirements.

The conditions that exempt a dog from mandatory sterilization should not be invalidated because the dog comes into the possession of the shelter. A punishment that permanently surgically alters an animal should not be imposed on a dog that gets away from its owner or is accidentally released by a utility worker once as a puppy and again years later as an adult dog; based on an offense by the owner; or based on the owner’s or shelter’s paperwork error.

While we understand that owners of dogs repeatedly at-large should be held accountable, we recommend that each provision that seeks to require sterilization of dogs be reviewed in light of these concerns and significantly amended, or that existing law be reenacted.

Allow for humane tethering for animals.  The proposed ordinance seeks to restrict, then ban, the use of tethers. While we strongly agree that no dog should be cruelly tethered, we submit for your consideration the attached discussion entitled Sassy’s Story – The Question of Tethering.  We recommend that the ordinance be amended to provide for ongoing additional specified methods of humane tethering to accommodate situations as included in the attachment.

Amend requirements for dog enclosures to account for a variety of circumstances, while still ensuring humane treatment.  The proposed ordinance seeks to establish arbitrary dimensions and requirements for dog enclosures. Under the proposal, a fence or pen that allows “at least 10’x10’ of space per dog” (100 sq. ft.), would be allowed, but a 6’x20’ (120 sq. ft.) enclosure would be illegal.

Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that dogs within rectangular enclosures can achieve long strides—stride farther and faster—than dogs within square enclosures.
It is unclear under the proposed ordinance if a dog given regular exercise in a larger fenced area or a dog that is provided other forms of play/exercise would be subject to proposed minimum enclosure sizes. It is also unclear if resident who lives in an apartment, townhouse or patio home with a small enclosed outdoor patio area would be in violation if any outdoor area into which dogs are allowed does not meet both size and dimension requirements.
We recommend clarification as to whether the required enclosure sizes would apply specifically to outdoor enclosures, or if these requirements would also apply to pens, kennel runs, rooms, and crates within residences and other facilities. We also recommend the proposal be amended to clearly provide that minimum enclosure sizes and dimensions, if any, be reasonable, based in sound science, and shall apply to outdoor enclosures that are utilized as a dog’s sole living accommodation.

Clarifications on dogs being kept outdoors in certain weather conditions.  The proposed ordinance authorizes the confiscation of pets from “properties or vehicles” under arbitrary and scientifically unsupported “extreme weather” conditions, defined as “any weather situation that includes excessive heat (greater than 85 degrees), excessive cold (less than 32 degrees), and/or during periods of severe thunderstorms, flooding or tornado warnings”.

This provision does not differentiate between pets maintained outdoors with shelter, pets within an outbuilding, pets within a residence, or otherwise. We recommend that references to “extreme weather” be stricken. We also recommend that for the protection of animals that are left in unventilated vehicles, this section be amended to provide that “it is unlawful to leave a pet unattended in a vehicle under weather conditions that pose an immediate threat to the health of the animal”.

Clarification regarding licensing.  This proposal appears to establish a “license for any facility and/or person who keeps more than two dogs or cats for breeding purposes and sells or otherwise disposes of the offspring of their animals for consideration.”  A citation to state law is provided; however, we note that Tennessee Code Annotated 68-8-104, as referenced under sections of the proposed ordinance, provides that (underlines added):

(a)  In addition to, but not as a substitute for or in any way detracting from the vaccination requirements of this chapter, authorization is granted for the adoption of local laws or ordinances to require the registration of dogs or cats in counties or municipalities.

(b)  Any local laws or ordinances implementing animal registration shall include methods for the collection of registration fees and shall require the expenditure of these funds to establish and maintain a rabies control program, also commonly known as an animal control program. In addition to various animal control activities, the rabies control program shall ensure that dogs and cats are properly vaccinated in accordance with this chapter and that biting animals or rabies suspects are observed or confined in accordance with this chapter and rules of the department.

(c)  No dog or cat registration certificate shall be issued unless an unexpired certificate of rabies vaccination is exhibited.

(d)  All fees collected for registration shall become part of the county or municipality rabies control fund and shall be disbursed by the appropriate trustee in a manner prescribed by the local legislative body for the sole purpose of the payment of salaries, for the establishment and operation of an animal shelter, for the establishment and operation of an animal control program, or for other expenses incidental to the enforcement of this chapter in the jurisdiction to which the registration requirement applies.

(e)  Any funds remaining at the end of any fiscal year shall be carried over to the next fiscal year, and its expenditure authorized by the local legislative body only for the purpose of rabies and animal control.

We further note that the above section of Tennessee Code does not authorize the registration or licensure of “facilities and/or persons” as footnoted in the proposed ordinance.  We recommend that sections of the proposed ordinance that seek to authorize licensure of persons/facilities be stricken.

The American Kennel Club strongly supports and actively promotes a wide range of programs to educate the public about responsible purebred breeding practices and the responsibilities of dog ownership. The AKC supports reasonable and enforceable laws that protect the welfare and health of dogs and do not restrict the rights of breeders and owners who meet their responsibilities. The AKC opposes the concept of breeding permits, breeding bans or mandatory spay/neuter of purebred dogs, specifically those based on the number of dogs owned or maintained. The AKC expects responsible dog owners and breeders to know, understand and obey laws that apply to them.

Amend vaccination provisions to ensure appropriate care of dogs and uniformity with state law.  The proposed ordinance would require that upon any intake, all dogs and cats be vaccinated, regardless of the reason or circumstances for the intake. This requirement could be medically dangerous for owned pets with histories of adverse reactions to certain vaccines. While this provision is reasonable for stray animals and animals from unknown sources, we recommend that pets with rabies tags, with microchips that lead to current owner information, or with current city registration should be exempted from this provision.

The proposed ordinance and current law do not comply with state requirements for rabies inoculations. The proposed ordinance seeks to re-enact a provision which states that it is unlawful for any person to own, possess or harbor a dog or cat within city limits unless such dog or cat is inoculated against rabies.

We note that Tennessee Code provides that dogs and cats may be vaccinated as early as three months of age or at an age as specified by the vaccine’s United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) license. Rabies vaccinations as authorized in Appendix A to the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control (as referenced in Tennessee Code) do not include a canine rabies vaccination that is approved to be administered to puppies younger than 3 months of age. Therefore, provisions that require inoculation of all dogs within city limits would put owners of young puppies and the veterinarians who treat them out of compliance with state law. We recommend these sections be amended to require that it is unlawful to own, possess, or harbor a dog three months of age or older that is not vaccinated in accordance with Tennessee Code, last amended.

Consider further amendments to ensure a clear, effective, and enforceable law, including:

Amend Section 10-102-(5) and 10-201-(1), (or the corresponding sections under current law), in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which does not require that service animals be registered with a national or any other organization. 

Amend numerous sections that seek to extend provisions beyond the city’s jurisdiction. These include references to “the area”, city/county, Washington County, etc.

Amend the provision that requires unaltered registration certificates to be made available at all times. Under this provision, a person walking their dog on leash, attending an event open to dogs, or even on their own property without the registration at hand could potentially be in violation. As written, this provision would also require a dog owner to make an unaltered registration certificate available when the owner is not accompanied by the dog. Any violation is subject to confiscation of the dog, fines and fees, and possible sterilization of the dog for which the registration was obtained – simply for not having the certificate at hand. We recommend this provision be amended to require that proof of unaltered animal registration shall be submitted within three business days when the owner is charged with an offense.

The proposal seeks to make the pet owner, and not the WCJC Animal Shelter, responsible for compiling and updating registration records, subject to fines and fees for noncompliance. We recommend these provisions be amended or stricken.

No time period is stated for residents who acquires new pets to obtain registration.  We recommend that a resident who acquires a pet shall have 10 business days to apply for a registration certificate for the newly-acquired pet.

Sections regarding the impoundment or issuance of a warning for nuisance animals are contradictory. We recommend that provisions in existing law for the issuance of a warning be re-enacted. This will provide that a person accused of harboring a nuisance pet has opportunity to correct the situation, and also will reduce shelter intakes.

Sections of current law regarding the approval or the denial of approval for the keeping of all animals under circumstances that may prove detrimental to the public health have been removed from the authority of the health officer and granted to the WCJC Animal Shelter. Language in existing law contradicts these provisions. Additionally, shelter personnel or undefined appointees may lack the education, training, and experience of the health officer, thereby putting public and animal health at risk. We recommend that existing sections of law that grant certain powers to the health director be re-enacted. 

A provision that seeks to outlaw “combat between animals or between animals and humans”, though well-intended, is overly broad.  For example, this would outlaw the use of police animals by law enforcement personnel to apprehend a fleeing suspect. We recommend this section be amended to reference or conform with state law regarding illegal animal fighting and the promotion and attendance of illegal animal fights.