County, Waxhaw examine rules, unfilled committees
Animals got attention this week from two different groups in the wake of the fatal pit bull attack against 5-year-old Makayla Woodard.
Nearly one week after the girl’s death, the Waxhaw town officials took steps to examine the town’s current animal-control regulation and also restored the position of animal-control officer to the police department, the officer will get training in coming months.
Meanwhile, despite opposition from several animal-protection advocates, the Union County Board of Commissioners dissolved the Animal Care Committee, which had remained empty since its creation in October.
In Waxhaw, the town board voted unanimously for its staff to examine its animal control ordinances for possible ways they can be improved. “Clearly something’s not working well,” Waxhaw Mayor Daune Gardner said. “Part of that is a fundamental disconnect between the town ordinances and the county not being able to enforce them.”
Last Wednesday, two pit bulls attacked and killed Woodard, when she walked out of her house at 324 Rehobeth Road to play with her own dogs. The pit bulls also seriously injured Makayla’s grandmother, Nancy Presson, 67, when she tried to rescue the girl, leading Waxhaw police officers to shoot the dogs. Presson has since returned home.
Waxhaw police identified the dogs’ owner as Michael Gordon, 23, who lived next door with his grandparents. Neither of the pit bulls was leashed, despite the town’s leash law requiring owners to either tether or keep their animals in an enclosed area, like a kennel.
Under Union County law, Animal Control officers can only enforce ordinances put in place by the county or state officials. That includes picking up strays, investigating animal cruelty, neglect, dangerous dog and nuisance calls. Town employees must enforce any violations of town ordinances, such as Waxhaw’s leash law, but Waxhaw eliminated its animal-control position nearly four years ago, leaving no dedicated officer to handle calls or investigate charges.
Gardner and the town council admitted that the lack of an animal-control officer has caused a problem. “We have been relying on Union County to provide animal-control services, but county personnel can’t enforce Waxhaw ordinances,” Gardner said.
Town manager Michael McLaurin told the board they could expect the officer to be trained and in place within the next few months.
“In the wake of last week’s tragedy, there’s been a feeling we need to take some action,” Gardner said. “I’m glad the board had a measured response.”
Supporters protest dissolving committee
A proposal to eliminate an empty committee took on a new life Tuesday, Jan. 18, as animal rights supporters asked county commissioners to change their mind. By a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Kim Rogers and Tracey Kuehler dissenting, the board dissolved the Animal Care Committee.
“It’s a feel good (committee),” Commissioner Todd Johnson said. “It sounds good, but the bottom line is there’s only so much we can do.”
With no authority and a vague mission to look into the welfare of animals, Johnson said the committee would have no real purpose. The previous commission majority created the panel in October and it has remained empty ever since. The plan, Kuehler said, was to wait a month to collect as many applications as possible before staffing the seven-member team. However, when the new board took over, Kuehler said, she was told the county was taking a different stance.
Kuehler originally planned to ask the board to consider appointments at their Jan. 18 meeting, but instead, an item ended up on the agenda calling for the group’s removal.
Residents were split, both on the idea of having a committee and animal control ordinances in general.
“I’m not gonna have a leash on my dog to chase cows,” Marshville farmer Pinky Marsh told the board. “I don’t need a leash on my dog to go hunting. You’re just trying to take away everyone’s rights.”
While remaining neutral about the leash law, others said the committee would be useful in shaping a plan for the whole county.
“I just want to have this committee,” Union County Humane Society volunteer and Weddington resident Cindy Poppino said. “I think a lot of citizens will agree it’s long overdue.”
The Humane Society routinely fields calls for everything from rabid animals to pets roving neighborhoods, Poppino said.
“They call the Humane Society for things we don’t have the power to do,” Poppino said.
County resident Kristen Petrelli told the board she’s had numerous issues with dogs. She ran into one that slipped his leash and was roaming free, while out with her 6-month-old daughter. When she complained to the county’s Animal Control section, officers told her they couldn’t help.
“They said because there’s no leash law, there was nothing they could do,” Petrelli said.
Mineral Springs Mayor Rick Becker said the Animal Care Committee could be useful as an advocacy group, and he cited multiple committees that appear to duplicate effort but continue to function.
“We have a DA’s office and a sheriff’s office, so why do we need a criminal justice committee?” Becker asked. “If the county was determined to eliminate any duplication of services, why not eliminate the agriculture advisory board, since the county has a Cooperative Extension office?”
“There needs to be a leash law,” Waxhaw resident Judith Coates said. People “need to be held responsible for their actions. It’s not the breed, it’s the deed.”