Berne considers animal-control law, public pleased

— Map from Albany County

This map shows the town of Berne with agricultural-district properties highlighted in green. Approximately a fifth of town land is considered agricultural, meaning the farmers of that land are protected through the state from local restrictions that would otherwise hamper their ability to farm effectively. 

BERNE — Cows may be formally rooted to their owner’s property under Berne’s proposed animal-control law, but the public, at least, appears to be over the moon with it.

The bill would essentially expand the town’s existing dog-control law to encompass all domestic animals, including livestock. Discussion about general animal regulations began last year as the town was seeking to fill the dog-control officer position, the name of which, following this law, would be adjusted to animal-control officer. 

Because Berne is a rural area, last year’s town board felt that the dog-control officer should be authorized to handle issues involving other kinds of animals, particularly farm animals that wander off their owners’ properties. 

Under the law, if an animal’s owner is subject to any of the complaints listed in the law — which range from animals “unreasonably and habitually” disturbing the peace, to uprooting vegetation on another person’s property, to creating “reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or injury” — he or she would potentially be fined between $25 to $100 for a first offense, or $100 to $500 for offenses that occur within six months of another.

Farmers can rest assured, though, that the new law will not infringe on their standard operations, both by design and through protections put in place by New York State law. 

Thomas Gallagher, of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Area Agricultural and Horticultural Program, told The Enterprise last week that the state’s Agricultural Districts Law protects farmers from restrictive local laws by superseding those laws, and allowing farmers to implement common farm practices.

Any farmer who feels restricted by a local law can ask the state’s commissioner of agriculture to issue a ruling on whether that law is indeed restrictive.

“I know we just had a ruling not too long ago about barking dogs,” Gallagher said, explaining that some farmers rely on guard dogs to prevent coyote attacks. “So the commissioner’s ruling was that the dogs can be out to guard and protect the flock of sheep. That was the state stepping up and superseding a town … [that] didn’t want the barking dog.”

According to a digital map hosted on the Albany County website, about a fifth of Berne is considered agricultural, particularly along Switzkill Road and Route 443.

As Gallagher noted to The Enterprise, properties that are farmed are not automatically in an agricultural district; farmers must first contact a county planning representative to be included. Gallagher said that most of the livestock farmers in Albany County are already in an ag. district. 

At a Jan. 12 public hearing on the bill, the small group of residents who spoke up were generally pleased with the law — “I’m very happy with the design,” said one woman. The public suggested changes that were mostly rote or semantic, such as ensuring that cats are included in the definition of domestic animals. 

The board ultimately voted to close the public hearing but did not take action on the law, leaving open the possibility of recommencing the hearing at the next regular meeting if needed. 

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