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New local laws would clarify rules for tethering dogs to prevent animal cruelty

How hot is too hot to keep a dog chained or leashed outside?

And when is it too cold?

The SPCA Serving Erie County would like legal clarity to these questions and has approached the city's law department, animal shelter and police department as well as the Erie County District Attorney's office to come up with legislation that provides the answers.

“The state law we work under, a lot of times it’s vague and left to interpretations," said Gary Willoughby II, the SPCA's president and chief executive officer. "It will say inclement weather instead of how cold or how hot. So we’re trying to tweak the existing laws and improve upon them at the local level.”

After two SPCA officials reached out to the city, the Common Council last week directed city lawyers to begin working with them and others to draft a city ordinance.

“The SPCA identified the need for it, but I’m not an expert on animal cruelty laws,” said Delaware District Common Council Member Joel P. Feroleto. “So instead of the Council arbitrarily coming up with (restrictions), it’s best to work with the experts.

“We want to have legislation that works, that’s enforceable, that helps people," Feroloeto said. "So let’s let the people who are experts in animal safety work with the Law Department to come up with good, effective legislation.”

There are an estimated 58,000 dogs in Buffalo.

Animal laws in New York State – which the SPCA follows – are “very vague” when it comes to how animal cruelty officers and police can intervene when dogs are left outside tethered to fences or trees in hot or cold weather for long periods of time, Willoughby said.

The City of Buffalo’s existing animal laws are not helpful, either. The city laws cite violations for offenses such as keeping dogs in unclean and unsanitary conditions and not providing adequate food, water and space. But there’s nothing on the books about keeping dogs chained or leashed outdoors in harsh weather.

The SPCA wants to change that at the local level by working with the city’s Law Department, animal shelter and Police Department, as well as the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. The organization wants restrictions established on outdoor restraint of pets so cruelty officers can intervene when they see violations happening.

The SPCA follows state law, but the organization has the ability to follow additional laws – like city ordinances – but are not required to, Willoughby said.

Local laws on Long Island are an example the Buffalo working group can follow.

For instance, in Hempstead, a local law says a dog cannot be tethered outdoors if the temperature is over 90 degrees for more than a half hour, Feroleto said.

“So, if we have this law on the books, if someone is doing that, then animal control could go enforce it and say, ‘Hey, this dog’s been out here all day. You’re violating city law,' " Feroleto said.

“Right now we don’t have a law on the books to enforce it,” he said. “If someone’s doing that, they’re not breaking the law, which means animal control can’t enforce it.”

The SPCA currently is working on setting up an initial meeting with the city and county officials who will be members of the working group.

The goal is to have the legislation in place by winter, "before it gets cold again,” Willoughby said. “Our main challenge comes in the winter.”

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