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Ordinance would give dogs a second chance

March 24, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Dogs that attack or threaten people or other pets would get 18 months to improve their behavior before being labeled permanently as a "vicious and dangerous animal" under changes to the Washington County animal control ordinance proposed Tuesday.

Currently, animals can be labeled "vicious and dangerous" after only one attack, which has led to protests from owners who say their pets were otherwise well-behaved, said Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, which enforces the ordinance.

The Washington County Commissioners discussed the idea and other proposed changes at their meeting Tuesday, and agreed to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes.

A date for the hearing has not been set.

The change, drafted by Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey, would create a separate designation called "potentially vicious and dangerous animal," which Downey described as a "purgatory level" for first-time offenders that might be able to benefit from training for the animal or education for its owner.

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Once designated "potentially vicious and dangerous," an animal would have to be kept confined and would have to complete an approved training course, if ordered. The owner could also be ordered to take a "good citizenship" course. If there were no additional attacks within 18 months, the label would be lifted.

"Vicious and dangerous" animals also must be kept confined and muzzled, and animal control officers may impound them if they are in violation. If the owner does not appeal within a specified time period, the impounded animal may be disposed of, the ordinance says.

A "vicious and dangerous" designation also carries implications for homeowners insurance policies, Miller said.

Another change under consideration would require registration for dogs designated as "guard dogs," defined as dogs that have been trained to protect commercial property and placed on the property for that purpose.

Another change would allow animal control officers to impose criminal citations on violators of the animal control ordinance, which would be punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment, a $1,000 fine or both.

The ordinance was created in 1990 and was last revised in 2001.

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