Delaware City Council might unleash a law with tougher penalties for animal neglect, although the final details are unclear.

Council on Sept. 11 considered an update to the city's ordinance on neglect of companion animals. The current legislation sets the penalty for neglect as a minor-misdemeanor charge, and the proposed update would allow the city to charge owners with a first-degree misdemeanor if the neglect leads to "serious physical harm."

The updated ordinance also would require tethers on unattended pets to allow "reasonable freedom of movement."

City attorney Darren Shulman said a time limit for tethering pets was not included in the proposed legislation because it would be difficult to prove violations beyond a reasonable doubt.

"That kind of provision, while it sounds very protective of animals, is impossible for us to enforce," he said. "You would have to have your code enforcement officer ... or somebody from the city basically sit there and observe for the (entire time)."

Delaware police Chief Bruce Pijanowski agreed with Shulman that a time limit would be difficult to enforce.

"We do chalk tires with two-hour (parking) violations. I'm not sure we could chalk paws," he said.

Shulman said a minimum length for tethers was not included in the legislation because the appropriate length may vary from dog to dog.

Delaware resident Shannon Roof said she started the push to update the legislation after seeing a neighbor's dog consistently tethered.

Although she agreed a time limit of a certain number of hours would be difficult to enforce, she said the law should address two additional conditions.

"I think it's imperative that we have a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (tethering ban)," she said. "I think it's imperative that we also have (a ban during) severe weather."

Jana Cassidy, interim executive director of the Humane Society of Delaware County, said the council should do whatever it can to prevent extensive tethering.

"The HSDC sees dogs of all sizes, shapes and ages (with) scars around their necks where the collar or chain has been embedded and it leaves the skin raw and sore," she said.

While council did not vote on the updated ordinance Sept. 11, individual council members did provide feedback.

Vice Mayor Kent Shafer said he thinks a warning could be appropriate for first violations of the ordinance.

"Our goal here is to change people's behavior, not necessarily give them a ticket," he said.

Council advised Shulman to work with the city staff on a revised ordinance to be discussed in October. The board has not set a date for a public hearing on the issue.

Mayor Carolyn Riggle said animal cruelty and neglect are topics council takes seriously.

"All of us here on council love our animals," she said. "Most of us are dog owners."