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Lack of leash law tops concerns at public hearing

September 28, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

Washington County's lack of a "leash law," rules for self-defense against dogs and whether to make exceptions for attacks with provocation were among the topics discussed Tuesday during a public hearing on the county's animal control ordinance.

The Washington County Commissioners are considering proposed changes to the ordinance, including a probationary period for dogs that attack, but comments from the 10 people who spoke at the public hearing spanned a number of topics not addressed by the changes.

Two speakers at the hearing requested the addition of leash requirements, which are absent from both the current ordinance and the proposed revisions. The ordinance prohibits owners from allowing animals to be "at large," but defines "at large" as off the owner's premises and not under the "immediate control, charge or possession" of someone capable of restraining the animal.

"I think most citizens we run into in this day and age think there is a leash law in the county," said Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County. "There is not. I think we need one."

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Washington County Farm Bureau President Ronald Leggett also spoke in favor of adding leash requirements.

"A lot of these incidents that you're talking about ... about dogs running out off the property would be stopped because the dogs would then be under the (owner's) command and control," said Leggett, a former Animal Control Authority member and former dairy farmer who said he has had farm animals attacked by loose dogs.

Rohrersville resident Tom Berry, a jogger who said he encounters threatening dogs that are both leashed and unleashed, said he didn't think a leash law was enough. He said he would like to see the ordinance spell out what defensive measures people could take against threatening dogs and to require owners of large dogs to carry insurance to cover expenses in the event of an attack.

"It seems like the dog owners have a lot more rights than the people that are attacked," Berry said.

Other discussion during the ordinance centered around the idea of provocation. The proposed changes would allow action against dogs for attacks "without provocation," defined as any act that would reasonably be expected to cause a dog to experience pain or to become threatened, irritated or frightened.

Pat Miller, a professional dog trainer and consultant and the wife of Paul Miller, told the commissioners that definition was "so broad as to include virtually every bite that occurs."

"This proposed ordinance, as written, ties the hands of your animal control provider so tightly that you might as well not have an ordinance at all," she said.

After hearing similar comments from several others, including the veterinarian and attorney representatives on the county's Animal Control Authority, Assistant County Attorney Kirk Downey said he would revise the draft to eliminate references to provocation but leave in language that allows for specific mitigating circumstances, including situations where the victim of attack is trespassing or is teasing the dog at the time of the attack.

"I think we're all on the same page now," Downey said of the provocation issue.

After the hearing, the commissioners said they would need to have further discussion on several issues, including whether or not dogs deemed "vicious and dangerous" should be allowed to remain in the community.

As proposed, those dogs, the repeat and more-severe attackers, could be kept as long as they are confined in a building or secure enclosure, away from people and other animals, or, when out of the enclosure, are muzzled, leashed and controlled. Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire has said that is no life for a dog and proposed that those dogs should be euthanized or sent out of the county.

"This is a pretty substantial part of the ordinance," Aleshire said. "At some point, we're going to have to take a position on this issue and either include it or not include it."

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