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Fines included in proposed vicious dog ordinance

August 16, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Anyone cited for having a dog that has been deemed vicious must pay a $100 fine for the first offense, and a $300 to $1,000 fine for any subsequent offenses, according to an updated version of Berkeley County's proposed vicious dog ordinance.

The ordinance, which has been discussed for months, probably won't be enacted for several more.

The Berkeley County Commissioners have held several public hearings on the ordinance. At the most recent hearing two weeks ago, nearly all of the people who spoke said owners of vicious dogs need to be held accountable.

The previous version of the ordinance did not include any form of punishment.

Norwood Bentley III, the county's legal counsel, said a week ago that he planned to incorporate a misdemeanor into the ordinance, with those convicted to pay a fine and possibly serve time in jail.

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He said Thursday that adding jail time into the penalty was not feasible because it meant a suspect could request a jury trial.

"You never know what a jury's going to do," he said, whereas the fine is more of a guarantee.

First-time offenders in dog-related cases cannot be fined more than $100, according to a state statute that deals with other dog problems, such as animals without tax tags. Increasing the fine could lead to problems, like an appeal to a higher court, he said.

"I didn't want to take the chance of stepping on the statute's toes," Bentley said.

Several dog attacks prompted interest in the vicious dog ordinance, including one case that was resolved Wednesday night after several hours before a judge.

After a hearing that extended into the evening, Circuit Judge David Sanders ordered a Dalmatian and terrier accused of attacking a horse to be destroyed. The dogs' owners had taken them to Cabell County, said Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely. Berkeley County Animal Control officers were sent to pick them up.

The owners can appeal Sanders' decision to the state Supreme Court. If the state does not grant a stay, both dogs will be euthanized, Games-Neely said.

In a separate case, Rocky, a large Rottweiler that reportedly bit a man on his legs, arms and ankles in May, was euthanized earlier this week, Games-Neely told commissioners Thursday.

Commission President Howard Strauss said he does not want to enact the vicious dog ordinance until the six-run animal control facility is renovated to include an additional 30 runs. Until then, there might not be any place to house dangerous dogs, he said.

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