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Dog law taking shape

July 01, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Under a proposed new Berkeley County law still in the preliminary stage, dogs could be destroyed if they are determined by an animal control officer to be vicious, county officials said Sunday.

The Berkeley County Commission decided to develop a law controlling vicious dogs after a string of recent dog attacks in Berkeley County.

A 190-pound Rottweiler attacked a Martinsburg man in May, requiring him to have surgery for wounds to his ankle, leg and side.

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Six other dog attacks occurred in the county within a week of that attack, including an incident in which two dogs killed a horse, animal control officers said.

The proposed vicious dog law was drafted by Norwood Bentley, attorney for the Berkeley County Commission. The draft was given to the commission, which may discuss the proposal at its July 11 meeting.

Whether a dog is vicious would be determined by Berkeley County animal control officers, Bentley said.

"(The dogs) cannot be given back to the public," Bentley said about what would happen if a dog is deemed vicious under the proposed law.

Under the proposal, owners of a dog considered vicious could appeal the animal control officer's decision to the county commission or to Berkeley County Circuit Court.

If the dog owner loses the appeal, that person would have to pay for expenses such as the legal expenses the county would pay for the appeal, the cost of housing the dog during the process and the cost of destroying the dog.

Because Berkeley County does not currently have a law controlling vicious dogs, such animals were sometimes returned to their owners after they were picked up by animal control officers.

In other cases, they were adopted by other people, Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss said.

Strauss said the proposed law looks like one that strikes a balance between addressing the problem and addressing the rights of dog owners.

During a commission meeting last month, a Hedgesville, W.Va., woman said she was concerned about any dog law being too restrictive and imposing on people's ability to have dogs for protection.

Deborah Snider told the commission that she uses dogs for personal protection. Snider said when someone comes onto her property who is not supposed to be there, she wants her dogs to bite to protect her.

Under the proposed law, the commission would not be able to take action against a dog owner simply because a neighbor complained that a dog is vicious, Strauss said.

The dog's behavior would have to be determined by an animal control officer before the commission could take action, Strauss said.

Also under the law, the commission would not be able to take action against a dog owner if someone entered that person's property and provoked an attack by a dog, Strauss said.

The commission will probably hold a public hearing on the proposed law, and it could be approved by September, Strauss said.

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