Animal control officer Chrissea Rothrock once found a pit bull chained to tires in a crackling thunderstorm.
He had no shelter from the rain and no one was home.
“It was the saddest sight I had ever seen,” she said.
She left a note and took the dog, named Debo, to the animal shelter. The owner later relinquished the pit bull and it was adopted into a good home.
Dogs chained in yards without shelter is a persistent problem here. Dare County requires a license and rabies shots. The county has an animal cruelty law and an ordinance against tethering dogs more than three hours a day. But unless circumstances are really dire, such as in Debo’s case, animal control officers cannot take a distressed dog on the spot.
That could change soon. Following a public hearing set for Jan. 7, the Dare County Board of Commissioners will consider amending the tether ordinance so animal control officers can impound a dog without delay if an owner will not comply. Currently, they have to get a warrant and wait for a deputy to issue a citation.
The change is expected to pass, said Sheila Davies, director of Dare County Health and Human Services.
“This will put the dog in a better state immediately,” Davies said.
Rothrock was part of the team who wrote the amendment after seeing dogs like Debo over the years. Under the current law, a citation under the tether ordinance can bring a fine of up $500. If the dog is impounded, the owner has 14 days to reclaim it before it is eligible for adoption.
Rothrock finds these dogs often in the same places. She drove around Manteo recently past four different homes where she has repeatedly found chained dogs without water or shelter.
Rothrock stands about 5½-feet tall and carries only pepper spray for protection from dogs or humans. Treats help persuade dogs to follow her if needed. She also carries a pole with a restraining line, but “I am not a dog catcher."
She once visited a home after getting repeated calls from a neighbor about loose dogs. Two separate owners had been given a final warning so she was prepared to impound their pets, Rothrock said. The owners threatened and shoved her and another female officer when they tried to take the dogs, she said. Despite the trouble, the determined women eventually left with the animals.
Rothrock responded to a call a few years ago about dogs tied to trees without shelter, food or water. She asked for help after getting a bad feeling approaching the house and found out the owner was a known gang member, she said. She confiscated the dogs without incident after getting backup from a deputy, and the owner was charged with animal cruelty.
Outer Banks storms even influence her job.
A couple had let their dogs loose before evacuating for Hurricane Michael, she said. Animal control officers got calls about them, found them and brought them to the shelter before the storm hit that night. They were was charged with animal cruelty, she said, and gave up custody of the dogs.
Rothrock's first duty is to educate people about the ordinance and on properly caring for their dogs.
“We’ll try to work with people,” she said. “They just have to work with us, too.”
Debo is not the only dog Rothrock has seized from the same owner, she said. As she drove by his house recently, she saw that he still had a small plastic dog house surrounded by tires. But on this cold, rainy day, there was no dog and no chain. For Rothrock, that was a promising sign.
“If you’re tired of seeing us then do what we ask you to do,” she said. “It’s not that hard.”