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Residents sound off on dog ordinance

August 02, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When a Rottweiler attacked Robbin Otey's 3-year-old son Alexander, she took photographs of the wounds.

The pictures were so graphic that those who developed the film assumed the child was abused and called authorities, Otey said.

Otey was one of about a dozen people who spoke before the Berkeley County Commission Thursday night about a proposed vicious dog ordinance, which defines what constitutes a vicious dog and indicates that dogs declared vicious will be euthanized.

After handing out copies of the three-page ordinance, the commissioners listened to comments for about an hour before adjourning. They did not vote to adopt the ordinance, saying they want to take into consideration all verbal and written comments.

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The ordinance probably will not be adopted for three or four months, which is when the six-run Berkeley County Animal Control facility will be expanded to 30 runs, said commission President Howard Strauss. Until the runs are built, there might not be any place to hold a dog.

"Having an ordinance that we cannot enforce is worthless," Strauss said.

Rhoderic Mills, who was attacked in Martinsburg about two years ago while he was investigating a call as an agent for the Department of Environmental Protection, also spoke. After a pit bull attacked him, doctors at first predicted he would lose one of his legs from the knee down. Other doctors saved the leg, but he has no feeling in his lower calf, he said.

"It took a baseball bat to the head, which never fazed it, and finally the owner choking it with a chain" to get the pit bull off, he said.

Mills said the same dog, five days earlier, had bitten a 5-year-old girl, but the dog was released from Animal Control, he said.

Nobody from Animal Control attended the meeting.

Lisa Smith, who owns two 100-pound mastiffs, opposed a portion of the ordinance that would deem a dog vicious if it injures a person, even if provoked. She said "punks" often harass her dogs, which she keeps fenced.

"If my mastiffs bite someone, it is going to be because they have been teased unbearably," she said.

Several people were angry that the ordinance does not include criminal penalties for the owners of vicious dogs, but Strauss stressed only the Legislature - not county commissioners - can create a law.

The owner of the dog that bit Alex was not prosecuted, because he willingly handed the dog over to authorities. Otey said she was waiting for tests to determine if the Rottweiler, which was euthanized, had rabies.

In the meantime, she said her son is undergoing counseling, and is afraid of dogs.

One man asked the commissioners whether the county ordinance would apply within Martinsburg city limits. Strauss said that would be up to city council members.

The ordinance can be viewed at www.berkeleycountycomm.org.

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