Animal Control Changes Near In Wicomico

SALISBURY – It appears those spearheading an effort to rework Wicomico County’s animal control ordinance are inching closer to a final draft.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council met with counsel and Aaron Balsamo, executive director of the Wicomico County Humane Society and chair of the county’s Animal Ordinance Review Committee, in an open work session to discuss final amendments to a new ordinance that will focus on animal rights.

In years past, the county established a Dog Ordinance Review Committee after a dog mauled and injured a young man in Willards. Committee members at the time were tasked with providing recourse and rules that would protect residents from further dog attacks. However, when 300 neglected dogs were found on a Wicomico County farm in 2016, the council identified the need to address animal rights. To that end, the Animal Ordinance Review Committee was formed.

Since last March, the committee has worked closely with council staff to draft an ordinance that would better promote the safety and welfare of Wicomico County citizens and domestic animals, and amendments presented to the county council last week appear to signal the ending of a somewhat lengthy process.

Council attorney Robert Taylor said since meeting with the council in recent months, the committee and counsel have included several new changes to the proposed animal ordinance, including sections that clarify state law, add the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office as an animal control authority, define the role of the Animal Appeal Board, and describe when a dog or animal could be euthanized, among other things.

“I think we have adopted all the concerns the councilmembers have expressed several months ago …,” he said. “They are all in there.”

Councilman Joe Holloway, however, questioned the role of the sheriff’s office. He argued that municipal police departments should be dispatched to animal control calls in the event an animal control officer is not available.

“The sheriff’s department has enough to do as it is,” he said.

Holloway also noted the 72-hour timeframe residents had to claim an animal from animal control was too short.

“If somebody’s dog is picked up on a Friday and they can’t get in touch with you or whatever, I think that is a pretty short time,” he said.

Balsamo explained that owners have three business days to claim an animal and that holidays and weekends were excluded. The council recommended that the time should be clarified in the ordinance and that the timeframe be extended to five days.

“I would like to see it longer than 72 hours,” Holloway said. “I think sometimes that’s a pretty short time for somebody.”

While he was pleased with the ordinance, county attorney Roscoe Leslie shared his concerns regarding repetition and wording.

“The content I don’t have a problem with,” he said. “It’s more with the nitty-gritty formatting.”

Taylor said he would meet with Leslie, council staff and the committee to address questions and concerns raised in the work session.

“We have had some comments here today by the council and by Mr. Leslie …,” he said. “We can go over it item by item.”

Council President John Cannon praised the work of counsel and the committee to draft a new animal ordinance, but urged them to finish their revisions.

“It’s been carefully reviewed, but I think it’s time we wrap this up,” Council President John Cannon said.

The council agreed to hold another work session with counsel and committee representatives next week before introducing the ordinance for a first reading.

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.