Bexley has followed Columbus in passing a law that bans chaining dogs outdoors overnight, but Bexley's law goes further in that first-time offenders could potentially face jail time.

Bexley City Council unanimously adopted legislation Dec. 5 that amends the city's animal cruelty code and bans tethering animals outdoors unattended under certain conditions.

"This progresses us further in the evolution of our animal protection laws," said Troy Markham, chairman of council's Recreation and Parks Committee, who introduced Ordinance 32-17 on Nov. 14.

Ordinance 32-17 prohibits the following:

* Tethering an animal outdoors unattended between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. and in the event of a severe cold or heat advisory by a local, state or national government authority.

* Tethering animals with a pinch, prong or choke-type collar, or any type of tether that is unsuitable for an animal's size and weight.

* Using a tether on an animal that is entangled or does not allow free movement of the animal for the tether's full length.

* Tethering animals in a manner that could it allow it to become entangled with a fence or other tethered animals.

* Tethering an animal in a manner that will allow it to reach the property of another person other than the pet owner, a public walkway or a road.

Before council voted to approve the ordinance, Markham introduced an amendment that lays out penalties.

Individuals who violate the law can be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor for a first offense, which could result in a $250 fine and/or 30 days in jail, and a third-degree misdemeanor for each subsequent offense ($350 fine and/or up to 60 days in jail).

While the city of Columbus adopted a similar ordinance in October, "ours is a little more punitive in that we do allow for jail time on the first offense," Markham said.

Council members debated whether jail time for a first offense is too severe.

"My concern is, if it's supposed to be an education (for the public), why would you be wanting to send someone in jail on a first offense?" Richard Sharp said.

Council member Lori Ann Feibel said she supports the legislation's intent to prevent animal cruelty, but questioned its enforceability.

"My only concern is that I'm worried it's going to be a 'he said, she said.' Proving it is going to be really hard," she said. "I am concerned about pitting neighbors against neighbors."

Markham noted that jail time isn't a mandatory sentence under the ordinance. Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler and City Attorney Marc Fishel said the city has leeway in enforcement.

"There's prosecutorial discretion," Fishel said. "It gives the (city's animal control officer) another tool to get control, perhaps, without anybody ever having to show up in mayor's court."

"This is just like code enforcement," Kessler said. "The amount of times we have an actual citation for code enforcement is few and far between. The enforcement mechanism in Bexley is not to go and cite somebody right off the bat."

Corey Roscoe, Ohio director of the Humane Society of the United States, said Bexley's ordinance has the potential not only to protect animals but prevent dogs from biting humans.

"Dogs who are socially isolated tend to develop aggressive tendencies," she said. "So having restrictions on the amount of time that they live outside means that they have to go inside the home, means they're going to have experiences with humans. Hopefully they'll have experiences with other animals, which will give them some of that needed socialization."

Roscoe encouraged Bexley to add a provision to the ordinance that goes beyond the Ohio Revised Code's definition of 'shelter' that pet owners must provide for animals kept outdoors. While the state code defines 'shelter' simply as protection from the elements, Roscoe encouraged Bexley to mirror legislation passed by the cities of Cleveland and Delaware. Those cities adopted legislation specifying that outdoor pet shelters must be completely enclosed and insulated and have a single entrance and exit, she said.

"When law enforcement goes onto a property, now the ambiguity of what 'shelter' is will be really defined and very clear for you to enforce that provision," Roscoe said.

Council President Tim Madison said the council will address the shelter provision of the ordinance at a date yet to be determined after consulting with the city's building and zoning director and animal control officer.