Wicomico Animal Ordinance Change Questioned

SALISBURY – A new chapter that could replace Wicomico County’s existing animal control ordinance will be reviewed by counsel following concerns by officials regarding language found in the text.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council held an open work session with Aaron Balsamo, executive director of the Wicomico County Humane Society and chair of the county’s Animal Ordinance Review Committee, to discuss proposed changes in a new animal control ordinance that was introduced in early January.

The new ordinance, if passed, will replace an existing ordinance in the county code entitled “Dogs and Other Animals” as part of the county’s effort to address animal rights.

Last March, Council President John Cannon requested a new committee that focused on animal rights be formed after 300 neglected dogs were found on a farm in Wicomico County in 2016. To that effect, the Animal Ordinance Review Committee was formed and a new chapter was brought before the county council for introduction last month.

In addition to the name, the proposed ordinance also features changes to rules on tethering, unsafe weather conditions and the definition of a domestic animal, which includes tamed species, such as cats, dogs, fowl, ferrets, horses or swine, commonly kept as a pet or livestock.

Last week, Balsamo met with the county council to hear their concerns and suggestions prior to voting on the ordinance.

“I’d really like input from the council,” he said. “I know there are some concerns out there so any chance to address them and fine tune the legislation that we are looking at is what I would like to do.”

While councilmembers praised the Animal Ordinance Review Committee for their efforts, some expressed their concerns with portions of the new chapter.

Councilman Joe Holloway questioned how the Animal Control Authority tasked with enforcing the law would monitor certain types of domestic animals now named in the proposed ordinance.

“If you are going to include cows and livestock, how are you going to enforce all of that?” he said.

Balsamo explained much of the enforcement would rely on the officer’s discretion, but said further issues could be directed to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture.

Holloway, however, disagreed with officer discretion.

“If you put something in the law, you’ve either got to enforce it or not enforce it and not leave it up to the discretion of the officer …,” he said. “My concern is that we make laws and say we won’t enforce them unless we want to.”

Holloway also added that certain provisions in the ordinance were unclear.

“I’m just concerned people are going to understand this differently,” he said.

Councilman Larry Dodd questioned what jurisdiction the Animal Control Authority would have in Wicomico County.

“Is there anything here that specifies what areas of the county the Animal Control Authority will have jurisdiction over?” he said.

Following further questions, Councilman Marc Kilmer suggested council attorney Robert Taylor review language in the proposed ordinance.

“These are very minor concerns to the bill,” he said. “I recognize the hard work you guys did … These are just some of the minor things that come up.”

The council is expected to take action on the proposed “Animal Control” ordinance at its Feb. 20 meeting. However, the decision could be postponed to allow counsel more time to review language in the ordinance.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.