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Vicious dog proposal takes a step forward

July 02, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

When people say that someone couldn't even be elected dogcatcher, they don't mean it as a compliment. It's a thankless job guaranteed to bring down the wrath of many citizens on any officer who picks up their pet.

Given the emotional nature of the issue, we commend the Berkeley County, W.Va., Commissioners for moving forward with a law to control vicious animals there.

The new proposal, drafted by Norwood Bentley, the county commission's attorney, would allow animal-control officers to determine whether a dog is vicious. Neighbors' complaints alone would not be sufficient to have an animal seized, nor would someone who enters private property and provokes an attack have recourse under the law.

If a dog is declared vicious, it would be removed from the owner, who could then appeal to the county commission or the Circuit Court. Those who lose appeals would be liable for the county's legal expenses, the cost of housing the dog during the appeal and the cost of destroying the animal.

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If that seems excessive, consider that in early May, there were six dog attacks in the county in a week's time. In the most serious, Kenneth Yoder petted a Rottweiler on the head, only to have the dog turn on him and inflict bites all over his body.

That same week, a Rottweiler attacked a miniature pony and two dogs killed a horse. At the time, animal-control officers said that the law as presently written required them to get a court order from a magistrate to hold a dog.

As we said in May when a Washington County 6-year-old was attacked by a mixed-breed animal, dog owners need to be held responsible for their animals' behavior, just as gun owners are held responsible if they use their weapons negligently.

One suggestion for animal-control officers: Videotape the offending animal. Putting the evidence on tape will give everyone a graphic display of the dog's vicious behavior.

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