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Ordinance may ban at-large fowl

The Cumberland County Board of Supervisors is considering an amendment to the county’s animal control ordinance which could make it unlawful for residents to allow their chickens, turkeys and other fowl to wander onto another person’s property, but deciding a penalty for the crime has turned into a bit of a wild goose chase.

A public hearing was first held at the Tuesday, Sept. 14, board meeting to amend Cumberland’s animal control ordinance to restrict the running of at-large fowl after many residents over the years have come forward to complain about guineas and other birds coming over from neighboring properties.

Several supervisors expressed support in adding fowl to the ordinance, but questions quickly began to be raised.

Board Chair and District 1 Supervisor Brian Stanley quickly asked how a property owner must contain their fowl.

“I have chickens, and I let them go out and roam the yard, and in the afternoon they go back to their roosting spot. How are we defining containment of chickens? I’ve had guineas too, and you can’t contain guineas if they’re not in a complete pen.”

District 2 Supervisor Ron Tavernier noted the ordinance should pertain to fowl that wander outside the owner’s property, noting stray birds can dig up plants and leave droppings, among other issues.

Stanley, who found the topic to be somewhat humorous, asked what the penalty would be for violating the ordinance.

“How are we going to penalize a property owner because their guinea hen flew onto someone else’s property? The devil’s in the details.”

“It’s their responsibility,” Board Vice Chair and District 3 Supervisor Eurika Tyree said. “It’s their animal, regardless if it flies or it runs or it crawls, it’s still their animal.”

Stanley asked if there was already a penalty in place for breaking such an ordinance. Former Cumberland County Attorney Brian Butler noted a violation of the section is considered a class 3 misdemeanor and could result in a fine of up to $500.

Supervisors agreed the subject needed to be tabled until the following month when more information was available.

The discussion was brought back into the light at the Tuesday, Oct. 12, board meeting. County Animal Control Officer Michael Davis attended the meeting to answer any questions.

After summarizing the Board’s previous discussion to Davis, Stanley stated the current punishment seemed to be a bit of an overreach from the local government and asked Davis if, in his opinion, the matter would be better solved by arranging conversations with the parties involved.

Davis said he received three calls last year regarding issues of at-large fowl, agreeing it might be better for those involved in such a situation to settle things as neighbors.

District 4 Supervisor Gene Brooks commented that the notion was commendable but inquired what other counties have done. Davis said he was only aware of one other county, Buckingham, that had added fowl to its animal control ordinance.

“My concern is, in the future something will have to be done I suspect, because people are raising a lot of exotic animals, and they need to be responsible for them, just like you’re responsible for your dog or any other animal,” Brooks said.

Tavernier said he felt teeth needed to be added to the ordinance to discourage residents from allowing their fowl to roam.

Davis confirmed with supervisors that the ordinance currently lists the penalty of a violation as a class 3 misdemeanor, adding a second offense could be a class 1 misdemeanor, the punishment of which includes a fine of up to $2,500 or 12 months in jail.

“That seems a little heavy-handed to me,” Stanley said.

“Oh, it is,” Brooks agreed.

Davis noted supervisors could likely include a specific penalty for a specific offense in the ordinance, allowing for a lighter punishment.

Staley asked if the Board should consider working on a more reasonable penalty for violation of the ordinance, adding that a monetary fine would make sense but that more research needed to be done on how other jurisdictions have handled the issue. He made a motion to carry the issue to next month in order to come up with a concept which would better fit Cumberland County. The motion was seconded by Tavernier and passed unanimously.