By Teri Mack and Natalie Jeffery
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
The Baltimore Country Council introduced a bill this week that would expand existing animal welfare laws by requiring owners to take extra steps to protect pets from adverse weather conditions.
Under the bill, animals that do not have access to suitable shelters would have to be brought inside a house within 30 minutes of poor weather, which would include wind, snow and rain as well as temperatures of 32 degree or below, 90 degrees and above, or any other conditions that would put the animal’s health and safety at risk.
Owners would have to make judgments based on the animal’s size, age, physical condition, and the thickness of its fur. Pet owners would also have to take precautions when the National Weather Service issues a severe weather alert.
The bill would expand the definition of “suitable shelter” to a structure with four walls and a floor and roof that allows the animal to remain dry and maintain a normal body temperature. The shelter would have to be free of standing water, waste and debris, and it would have to contain adequate ventilation.
A crawl space or structure made from pressure-treated wood with certain chemicals would not count.
Councilman Wade Kach, R-Third District, said the bill exempts farms.
The bill, which is being called Oscar’s Law, was inspired by an animal cruelty incident in Arbutus, Maryland, in March in which a dog named Oscar died of hypothermia after allegedly being left out in bad weather conditions on a consistent basis.
The specifics of the bill were challenged by Owings Mills resident Timothy Carrion, who is a member of the American Kennel Club.
Corrion agreed that “animal abuse is appalling,” but he said the bill does not take into account the variety of dogs and the conditions that each can endure. For example, he said some dogs that endure 32 degrees while others cannot take 40 degrees. He said a dog with thicker fur does not necessarily mean it can withstand harsher weather conditions.
He suggested that a list of criteria be created and used as a standard when authorities are assessing an animal’s wellbeing.
“The guidelines listed in the bill are too confined and are not animal specific,” Carrion said. “If this bill passes the county will have legalized abuse.” He said the bill creates a loophole for some animal abusers.
The council also heard a request from the county administration to sell the old Towson fire station property on York Road and Bosley Avenue to Caves Valley Partners LLC for $6.9 million.
The council had already approved the sale of the nearly 5-acre site to CVP in December 2013 for $8.3 million, but the sale was held up when residents in the area vehemently opposed the company’s plans to build a Royal Farms gas station on the property.
After years of debate, the county negotiated an amendment to the original contract that extended the closing date to Dec. 31, 2023.
The current proposal – a second amendment to the contract – states that the community and developer negotiated a new plan that no longer includes a gas station on the land. The county would have to close on the property by June 30.
The second amendment being considered by the council also revises the purchase price from $8.3 million to $6.9 million to reflect an updated economic evaluation of the property as well as the stipulation that a gas station not be built there.
CVP would have to submit a new concept plan for the property and would follow the regular zoning approval process. Under the old plan, the company won approval for a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which allows a developer to use the land outside its normal zoning designation in exchange for bringing some public benefit to the community.
The contract amendment will be considered at the council’s meeting on April 16.