Animal control laws may get more bite

February 22, 1997


Staff Writer

Stray dogs and pet owners out of compliance with leash and pooper-scooper laws might drive local officials to get tougher with animal control regulations, officials said.

Both the City of Hagerstown and Washington County's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are looking at adding or shifting staff.

Lon Carson's family cat died after being attacked by a pit bull in the fenced-in back yard of the Carsons' North Prospect Street home last November.


In response to Carson's concerns, Mayor Steven T. Sager earlier this month asked city code enforcement officials to find a way to solve animal control problems.

There are laws on the books to deal with animal control problems, city Building Inspector Mike Heyser said.

For instance, constant barking might be considered a public nuisance and there are leash and pooper-scooper laws, he said.

Heyser said one option for beefing up enforcement would be for the city to shift staff or hire people to enforce animal regulations.

The SPCA is responsible for animal control in the city and Washington County, but doesn't have enough personnel to respond to every complaint, Executive Director Shelly Moore said.

The shelter's animal control officers responded to 3,778 calls from July 1, 1995, to June 30, 1996, and it's projected they'll respond to 4,594 calls between July 1, 1996, and June 30 of this year, Moore said.

Two officers work on weekdays and one is on duty during the weekends, she said.

After hours, officers respond only to emergency calls, such as dog bites or animals caught in traps.

The SPCA has only two officers now, and a third position is expected to be filled shortly, Moore said.

Moore said she will ask the Washington County Commissioners for an additional $20,000 to fund a fourth animal control officer's position.

But, she warns, common complaints, such as dogs barking and roaming or of pet owners who don't use pooper-scoopers, will probably continue.

Animal control officials must witness a situation in order to issue a violation to a pet owner or to remove the animal, she said.

People can file complaints through the court system, Moore said.

There have been no local cases of animal feces causing health problems, but unscooped animal feces is a health concern, said Dr. Robert Parker, Washington County health officer.

There have been complaints of animal feces on school grounds, including athletic fields. Pets are not allowed on school property.

Children who do not wash their hands properly after touching animal feces run the risk of skin irritations and other problems.

The chief health concern prompted by animals running loose is rabies, Parker said.

Of the 4,139 animals the shelter handled from July 1995 to last June, Moore said 2,425 ;- or 59 percent - were taken to the shelter because they were strays that caused animal control problems.

Moore said she plans to ask the commissioners to create an administrative board to hear complaints from neighbors that the SPCA wasn't able to resolve with the animal's owner. The board would set guidelines and could determine whether a violation had occurred.

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