Delaware residents who neglect their pets may see tougher penalties soon.

Delaware City Council began a discussion of animal neglect earlier this summer after a resident complained her neighbor was tethering a dog for an excessive amount of time.

City Attorney Darren Shulman returned to council Aug. 28 with a rough draft of an update to Delaware's ordinance on neglect of companion animals.

The ordinance previously passed by council sets the penalty for neglect as a minor misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $150 for a first offense.

The updated draft, if approved by council, would allow the city to charge a resident with a first-degree misdemeanor if a neglected companion animal suffers "serious physical harm."

The draft also adds language that would require pets' tethers to allow "reasonable freedom of movement."

Shulman said the city's legal department is recommending against including a time limit for tethering in the ordinance. He said it can be difficult to prove a suspect violated a time limit beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It's hard to enforce because you have to watch it," Shulman said. "It's kind of like our two-hour parking (limits)."

Councilman Chris Jones said he understands the enforceability problem, but wonders if a time limit in the ordinance could still be useful. He said even if officials did not pursue criminal charges, they could point to the limit to discourage dog owners from tethering their pets for extensive amounts of time.

"The people I'm working with believe that has to be in this ordinance," he said, noting multiple groups and individuals had reached out to him about the topic.

Shulman said it would be more feasible to include a provision that bans tethering between a set time of day or night, such as between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Jones said he also took issue with a provision in the ordinance requiring owners to provide tethers "of a sufficient length."

"We need to define what sufficient means," he said. "I think we need to actually put a tangible number on it."

Vice Mayor Kent Shafer said he thinks leaving general language in place may be more appropriate.

"My concern with putting a lot of specifics (in the ordinance) is that we're either being over-restrictive or possibly unreasonable," he said.

Shafer said a dog being outdoors for much of the day is not necessarily a sign that dog is being neglected.

Shulman asked council for additional feedback for a new draft of the ordinance, which will be brought before council at a future meeting.

Council did not conduct a reading or vote on the draft at the Aug. 28 meeting. Residents will be able to comment on potential changes to the law at later meetings.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@twgallick