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Changes to Washington Co. animal rules considered

September 01, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners discussed Tuesday whether animals that are declared "vicious and dangerous" should be allowed to remain in the community or should be required to be euthanized or sent out of the county.

Currently, animals declared vicious and dangerous by the county's Animal Control Authority have to be kept in a confined building or secure enclosure and cannot be let out unless muzzled, leashed and controlled. If the owner violates those rules, the animal can be impounded and potentially euthanized.

However, the commissioners are in the process of updating the county's animal control ordinance and are considering adding a less-severe designation of "potentially vicious and dangerous" that is removed if the animal goes 18 months without another offense.

With that new category in place, only the most severe offenders -- animals that attack twice in 18 months or cause severe injuries -- would be deemed "vicious and dangerous."

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With that in mind, Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he thought animals that make it to the more severe "vicious and dangerous" category should be euthanized or sent out of the county.

"At that point, to me ... this animal just has no ability to be acclimated to live in the neighborhood, and the 100 folks that live around that house should not be subjected to that unsafe environment," Aleshire said. "To me, it's that cut and dry."

Aleshire said he didn't see what "functional good" a dog serves a family when it must be kept in a secure enclosure and muzzled.

"I love dogs to death, but at that point, that dog isn't a pet," he said.

The commissioners also discussed ways to ensure better attendance by members of the Animal Control Authority, the five-member board that meets once a month to decide cases related to the animal control ordinance.

Daniel F. DiVito, the county's director of permits and inspections, said that even when alternates are called, the county often has trouble getting enough of the authority members for a quorum. This results in canceled meetings and forces the Humane Society of Washington County to hold impounded animals for an additional month for each cancellation.

The commissioners considered adding more alternates or making a larger board that would meet twice a month, with half the members attending each meeting.

However, finding more members could be a challenge, commissioners said.

"It's not an easy board to volunteer for," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said. "There aren't many pleasant feelings that come out of it."

The specific composition of the board also poses complications, county attorney Kirk C. Downey said. Currently, the board must include one veterinarian, one member of the agricultural community, one member of the legal profession and two members from the public at large.

The commissioners also discussed making one member a law enforcement representative, both to represent the profession and to keep order in the often-heated meetings.

Downey said the county's legal staff would develop some suggestions and present them at a future workshop along with a revised draft of the county's animal control ordinance to reflect the commissioners' discussion Tuesday.

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