To the editor:
The barking ordinance that Jackson county commissioners recently said they’d support sounds at first like a good idea. After all, the idea of dogs barking all night long is upsetting and annoying. Tax-paying property owners deserve the right to enjoy their property without such annoyances.
However, these kinds of ordinances not only mask a more fundamental community problem, but they exacerbate a basic community division. The problem they mask is the problem of homeless animals.
Though commissioner interest in limiting pet overpopulation has been tepid in the past, the fact is that problem households with too many barking animals fall into two broad categories: those who can’t or won’t spay and neuter their pets, and those who rescue and care for the county’s resulting overly abundant animals.
As Reporter Quintin Ellison’s recent Smoky Mountain News coverage of this issue makes clear, Animal Control believes “enforcing a barking dog ordinance is not consistent with its mission.” That’s because their mission is animal control, a mission complicated by the fact that animal neglect and abandonment, and resulting animal euthanasia, have been made worse by poverty and joblessness in this community.
Such an ordinance, they add, would cost “considerable money for staff and an expanded animal shelter.” That’s because most people, when confronted with the prospect of silencing their dogs or getting rid of them, choose the second option because they can’t afford the first.
Such an ordinance would also widen a division that has been growing in recent years, pitting the well-to-do against the poor. In general, those who take the time to complain about an ordinance are prosperous. At least half of the individuals who spoke at the recent meeting are out-of-towners who are well-off enough to purchase vacation homes in the same Cashiers development.
The commissioners, too, enjoy higher-than-average property values; at least two own property in Jackson County with tax values that exceed a million dollars. As the Humane Society of the United States has recently shown, on the other hand, those who are young, poor, and uneducated are much more likely than the rest of the population to have unneutered pets — and unneutered pets lead to more pets.
Rescue groups, generous donors, and some local vets have made a dent in this problem, but pet overpopulation is still a major predicament in our county. The fact that we have no leash law adds to this predicament, since free-roaming pets and hunting dogs that are not altered cause not only a noise problem but a health problem.
The sheriff’s office is equally unwilling to enforce a noise ordinance, as Ellison’s article makes clear, and such ordinances are not enforced in neighboring counties either. I suspect that’s because, besides being overtaxed already, law enforcement personnel don’t relish the prospect of settling squabbles between neighbors who can’t agree about who’s at fault and how to solve the problem. No one likes the idea of taking beloved dogs away from families and turning them in to shelters where they will almost always be euthanized.
A few years ago, Asheville decided to tackle the real problem, pet overpopulation, with limited spay neuter laws and leash laws. It’s time Jackson County revisited this idea. Such laws might be enforced only when other animal infractions, like biting or cruelty, occur. We could make exceptions for responsible breeders who don’t sell wholesale to pet stores or puppy mills with the provision that such breeders meet minimal community standards. Let’s try to find a workable fix for the real problem.