By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Dog owners who tether their pets outside could face time behind bars under new legislation considered by the City Council Friday.
Under the legislation, intended to clamp down on animal abuse, owners would be barred from tying up animals outside for more than three hours in any 12-hour period.
Violators would first receive a written warning, with a second offense punishable by a maximum $250 fine. Subsequent offenses would be punished with fines of up to $500 and/or as much as three months in jail.
Queens City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., who sponsored the legislation, said that at the moment, unless there were visible signs of abuse, like a collar growing into an animal's neck, there was nothing authorities could do.
"I don't mean I expect police to go around with a stopwatch enforcing this," he said before the hearing.
"My goal is to prevent animal abuse as a way of life, not to prevent someone from tethering their dog up while they run in for a cup of coffee."
ASPCA President Edwin Sayres said he hoped the new law would help stop abuse before it's too late.
"Tethering dogs outside is usually the first sign of neglect and ultimately cruelty," he said.
TriBeCa resident Jennifer Fox, 51, the proud owner of Ptah, a rescued stray, was appalled to think of anyone leaving a dog chained up on the street for more than three hours.
"Who would do that?" she asked, adding she didn't like leaving Ptah tied up for the five minutes it took to run into the a local electronics store on Monday morning.
But when it came to punishing dog owners for tying up their pets in their own backyards, she thought the legislation went too far.
"I personally think there are too many laws...It seems like overkill," she said. Instead, Fox thought concerned neighbors should report any perceived animal abuse to the City.
At a hearing in front of the Council's Health Committee, Deputy Health Commissioner Daniel Kass said while the agency supported the intent of the law, it had serious questions about enforcement.
He questioned having to stake out a property for 12 hours or more to catch violators in action.
Vallone acknowledged the enforcement issues and said he was open to discussing alternate ideas.
A second bill being considered Friday would boost the dog license fee by $25.50 for dogs older than four months that have not been spayed or neutered. Dogs with medical conditions that prevented spaying or neutering would be exempt. Currently the fee is $8.50 for fixed dogs, $11.50 for unspayed or unneutered, according to the Health Department's website.