Understanding the foundation of the laws you are entrusted to fairly enforce will provide you with more confidence, you will gain credibility and you will offer the people and animals a more effective and professional service.
We are now going to overview the basic structure of the authority passed onto your local ordinance (and on to you!) along with some common terms you will encounter.
Authority: The power or right to make decisions, give orders and enforce obedience. Authorities are provided by the Constitution to the federal government and onto the states.
Authorities are then provided by the State to counties and cities via the state laws.
State laws or state legislation are termed statutes.
Local laws (county/city) are termed ordinances.
Statutes extend authority from the State to counties and cities, within parameters, to enact ordinances in general and for specific matters. In our case it is animals and your local animal ordinances. Statutes may also limit authorities.
Counties and cities elect legislators (County Commissioners, City Council, etc.) to govern their jurisdiction.
Ordinances arelocal laws which address a subject(s) within a specific area (territorial jurisdiction). Our interests of course lie in the animal laws in your jurisdiction.
The animal officer’s authority will be stated in the local ordinances.
Review your ordinances now and identify power or authorities sections. You will find your position and others with authority.
It is vital to maintain a full awareness of your authority and limitations. There will be times when your limited authority will prevent you from acting in a way that would solve a particular problem and it can be very frustrating; but acting beyond your authority (Ultra vires) will only invalidate your hard work and harm your jurisdiction. The best practice is to never exceed your authority. If in doubt, speak to a supervisor or your legal counsel. (Attorney, D.A.)
Statutes and ordinances themselves or portions thereof are subject to additions, deletions or changes.
Changes are termed amendments.
A deletion is termed as being repealed.
Very few animal related statutes have not been amended or repealed over time.
Animal statutes and ordinances may not be changed for years. They may be repealed and a new ordinance or statute enacted. It is important you maintain a working knowledge of amendments, repeals and additions to animal and related law. The manual you are using, North Carolina Laws for Animal Control - Animal Protection - Public Health is updated every year with new and amended statutes to assist you.
If/when an ordinance is introduced and passes it becomes local law in its’ territorial jurisdiction. Ordinances may build upon state statutes and may require a level of conduct more stringent than statutory law but never less stringent.
For example; There is no general "leash law" in North Carolina but your local ordinance may contain one.
Jurisdiction: The official power to make legal decisions and judgments.
Subject matter jurisdiction
The official power to make legal decisions and judgments regarding a specific matter.
The official power to make legal decisions and judgments in a defined area.
The authority over a person, regardless of their location.
Animal officers will typically have subject matter and territorial jurisdiction;
North Carolina statutes specifically state that counties and cities “may”, not “shall”enact ordinances. Enactment of an animal ordinance is an option not a directive.
Language such as “shall”, “must”, “may” and other directives are always very important when interpreting and enforcing law.
North Carolina has authorized counties and cities to enact a wide range of ordinance on various subjects including animals.
Read Chapter 2 Powers - Authorities sub chapters Counties and Cities.
§153A-121. General ordinance-making power.§160A-174. General ordinance-making power.
The state authorizes counties and cities to enact ordinances for the protection of the general public health and welfare of it's jurisdiction. Note the state reserves the authority of vehicle traffic to the Board of Transportation and will not impair the authority of the local Board of Health.
§153A-122. Territorial jurisdiction of county ordinances. §160A-176. Ordinances effective on city property outside limits.
The territorial jurisdiction of a county ordinance is excluded from a city unless adopted by the city and provides a process for withdrawing city jurisdiction. A city ordinance is effective on property owned by the city located outside of the city limits.
§153A-123. Enforcement of ordinances. §160A-175. Enforcement of ordinances.
These statutes provide the basis for the civil fines and criminal actions in county and city animal ordinances. The amount of the fines, or penalties can not exceed the amount allowed by §14-4. Violation of local ordinances misdemeanor. The maximum amount is $500 and any fine over $50 must be expressly (in writing) stated in the ordinance. §14-4. Violation of local ordinances misdemeanor. is found in Chapter 3 Felonies and Misdemeanors in your manual. The statutes go further regarding injunctions and abatements not typically used in animal violations.
Read your local ordinances now and identify sections relating to fines or penalties.
Injunction: A court order directing a person to restrain or refrain from continuing an action. Injunctions are further defined in Chapter 3 Civil - Criminal Procedures in your manual. Abatement: Directing one to stop or reduce an action.
Review your local ordinances and identify your title and responsibilities.
Most ordinances impose fines or penalties for violations. You may have the authority to issue a civil fine (penalize) and/or pursue criminal actions. Most officers will issue a fine (citation) for lesser violations and consider criminal charges for more serious or chronic violations.
Read §15A-302. Citation in Chapter 3 of your manual for a format of the contents of a citation.
Well written ordinances will provide you with a process concerning citations and criminal actions.
A good example is found in the Cumberland County Animal Ordinance process; nuisance animal violation fine:
Notice of violation. When an animal control officer determines that a violation of this section has occurred, he may issue a written warning of violation and notice of public nuisance, which shall be served on the owner or keeper of the animal. The owner or keeper shall be responsible for abating the nuisance within 24 hours by making sure his animal does not engage in any further act or acts which may constitute a nuisance under this section.
Failure to abate the nuisance. If the animal control officer determines that the animal has engaged in any further act(s) constituting a nuisance, or if the owner or keeper of the animal fails to abate the condition which constitutes the nuisance within 24 hours after issuance of the written warning of violation, the animal control officer may issue a notice of violation and civil penalty for the first offense and additional penalties for each subsequent offense. If the owner fails to abate the nuisance after the first civil penalty, the animal control officer may seize and impound the animal. If the animal is seized, the animal control officer must post a notice of seizure and impoundment with the owner or keeper of the animal. The owner or keeper may reclaim the animal upon payment of any civil penalties and shelter fees or charges for the impoundment. If the animal is not reclaimed within five days, it shall become the property of the animal control department and shall be disposed of according to the department's policies.
Note the text, “may and shall”.
A warning is issued (abatement) and expires in 24 hours (this is a due process notification, we will discuss this later). If further violation occurs the officer may seize the animal. If the animal is on the owner's property, a seizure warrant would be required. The may in this ordinance gives the officer options if the violation was say, barking.
The Cumberland County ordinance also provides a clear process for criminal actions: In addition to the civil penalties prescribed in this section, any violation of this chapter, also designated as chapter 3 of the Cumberland County Code, shall also constitute a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a fine or not more than $200.00 and imprisonment of not more than 20 days.
An officer here may issue a penalty and file criminal charges.
Review your local ordinances and locate penalties for violation. Penalties may be found in individual sections describing the penalty for violation of that section; or they may be found in a comprehensive section listing penalties for violation of specific sections of the ordinance.
§153A-131. Possession or harboring of dangerous animals. and §160A-187. Possession or harboring of dangerous animals.
These statutes would apply to an ordinance specifying any animal considered dangerous to persons or property. North Carolina enacted laws pertaining to dangerous dogs specifically but this authority extends well beyond dogs. As a result, many jurisdictions have adopted ordinances defining, prohibiting and regulating animals such as reptiles.
§153A-145.4 Limitations on standards of care for farm animals. §160A-203.1 Limitations on standards of care for farm animals.
Enacted in 2015 these mirrored statutes limit the power of counties and cities in regulating the care of defined farm animals.
The remainder of the sub chapter, Counties and Cities. contains various and very similar authorities to counties and cities in specific matters. It is worth your while to review your other county or city ordinances regarding subject matter that may apply to animals. Other ordinances worth knowing about can address noise, vegetation, sanitation, property set backs, etc. If your animal ordinance is limited in resolving an issue, it is well worth your time to check out other ordinances in your jurisdiction for assistance and to point citizens in the right direction when you can not help.
Most animal and other ordinances can be found at these websites:
Animal Cruelty Investigators
Authority was granted to counties in 1979 to appoint an Animal Cruelty Investigator (ACI). See §19A-45. Appointment of animal cruelty investigators; term of office; removal; badge; oath; bond is found in Chapter 8sub chapter Animal Cruelty Investigators in your manual. Randolph, Chatham, Wayne, Carteret and other counties have ACI appointments. Other counties, such as Burke have appointed their animal officers as ACIs. Regardless if your jurisdiction appoints an ACI, you have the responsibility to investigate and enforce your ordinance's section pertaining to animal cruelty. Unless the ACI has the authority to enforce the local ordinance or other legislation determined by the Board of Commissioners ACI investigations are limited to:
The following definitions apply in this Article: (1) The term ‘animals’ includes every living vertebrate in the classes Amphibia, Reptilia, Aves, and Mammalia except human beings. (2) The terms 'cruelty' and 'cruel treatment' include every act, omission, or neglect whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering, or death is caused or permitted.
The Animal Control Officer Arrives
The control and care of animals has a long, interesting history. As our duties and responsibilities increased over the years we have improved our practices, we organized and are now a recognized profession across the country. Many states have certification programs that must be completed before taking the title of an officer; North Carolina has thus far, left the standards of the position to the discretion of counties and cities.
Read Chapter 2 Powers - Authorities sub chapter Animal Control Officers.
Review your local ordinances and identify the Animal Control Officer and/or Dog Warden, Animal Warden, etc. Some counties and cities appoint animal control officers using other titles. Stanley County appoints “Animal Wardens” and defines their responsibilities within their ordinance.
§67-30.Appointment of animal control officers authorized; salary, etc.
In 1973 North Carolina recognized the animal control officer and authorized counties to appoint one or more animal control officers and may fix their salaries, allowances, and expenses. Note the "may" in this authority.
§67-31. Powers and duties of dog warden.
The powers and duties of the county dog warden shall be as follows: (1) He shall have the power of arrest and be responsible for the enforcement within his county of all public and public-local laws pertaining to the ownership and control of dogs, and shall cooperate with all other law-enforcement officers operating within the county in fulfilling this responsibility. (2) In those counties having a rabies control officer, the county dog warden shall act as assistant to the rabies control officer, working under the supervision of the county health department, to collect the dog tax. In those counties having no rabies control officer, the county dog warden shall serve as rabies control officer.
Dog wardens are limited to county appointments, have specific authorities and are notanimal control officersunless specified by local ordinance.
This statute was enacted in 1951 and has not been amended. Most agencies appoint animal control officers and include the responsibilities of the warden. Dog wardens have the power of arrest which now requires Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET).
Health Directors Health Directors play an important role in animal and rabies control. Many ordinances include the health director and specify their roles and authority. Their statutory authority, as it relates to animals and rabies is found in Chapter 7 Public Health in your manual. We will discuss rabies control in Section 8.
Wildlife Resources Commission
The Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) authorizes Wildlife Protectors and Wildlife Service agents of which you will have contact with.
Wildlife officers maintain jurisdiction over wild animals with the exception of rabies suspects of which rabies or animal control officers manage.
Wildlife statutes and regulations are changing continuously. For more information and for a wealth of educational materials visit the Wildlife Resources Commission website.
Now that we have briefed the pertinent authorities passed from the State to your ordinance, let's move on to how the law is constructed so we can interpret it and improve your understanding of your ordinance.
North Carolina Laws - Animal Control - Animal Protection - Public Health