FUNKSTOWN — In the wake of a weekend dog attack in which 12 sheep were killed and eight others were injured, some in the agricultural community are renewing calls for tighter rules against unrestrained dogs in Washington County.
“Our feeling is that we need to have better restrictions on domestic dogs running around,” said Ronald Leggett, president of the Washington County Farm Bureau. “A leash law, perhaps. Higher fines.”
Leggett said he spent several hours Monday with Funkstown-area farmer Joseph Frey, who, police say, was chased into a barn Sunday morning by two pit bulls and found much of his flock had been mauled overnight.
“I actually, being an animal lover and a farmer all my life, actually choked up to look at the pictures,” Leggett said. “They tore the faces clear off the sheep. The jaw bones were sticking out.”
One of the dogs was shot and killed by Frey’s son, and the other ran from the farm and was found at a home on East Green Street in Funkstown, Maryland State Police said.
The second dog was impounded Monday by the Humane Society of Washington County and will be declared “vicious and dangerous,” Humane Society spokeswoman Katherine Cooker said.
Under county ordinance, dogs declared vicious and dangerous must be confined from contact with people or other animals except under carefully controlled circumstances.
The owner will have an opportunity to appeal the designation.
‘A taste for blood’
Leggett said he didn’t think the Humane Society acted quickly enough in removing the surviving dog from the community.
“We, as agriculture producers, felt that they should have went immediately and confiscated that dog, because once those animals have a taste for blood, they will return,” he said.
The Washington County Animal Control Ordinance says an animal control officer may seize an animal from any place if emergency conditions make it necessary to do so to protect the health and safety of the animal, the public or other animals.
Once an animal is impounded, the owner may appeal its removal to the Animal Control Authority, a five-member board appointed by the Board of County Commissioners that also hears appeals of “vicious and dangerous” designations.
The authority likely will be charged with deciding whether the impounded pit bull will be returned to its owner, Leggett said.
“Our personal opinion and wish is that they put this animal down as well,” he said. “It needs to be euthanized.”
Vicious, dangerous and allowed to stay
Last year, when the Board of County Commissioners was revamping the county’s animal-control ordinance, then-commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire argued that dogs deemed vicious and dangerous should not be allowed to remain in the county, but rather euthanized or moved elsewhere. The other commissioners did not support his position, and the ordinance passed allows such dogs to remain with their owners if several conditions are met.
A vicious and dangerous dog must be confined in a building or secure enclosure to prevent contact with humans or other animals, the ordinance says. The dog cannot be removed from the enclosure unless muzzled, leashed and under the control of someone 16 or older who is physically capable of restraining the dog.
Vicious and dangerous dogs must also be spayed or neutered and microchipped, the ordinance says.
Under the revised ordinance, certain first-offense attacks may result in a less-severe “potentially vicious and dangerous” designation, which is temporary and is removed after 18 months if there are no other attacks.
However, if a first attack causes death, a broken bone or excessive bleeding to a person or domesticated animal, no such probationary period is granted.
Cooker said she didn’t think either dog involved in Sunday’s incident had previously been designated vicious and dangerous or potentially vicious and dangerous.
Calls for leash law
During discussions about the animal-control ordinance, Leggett, Humane Society Executive Director Paul Miller and others argued the county should institute an explicit leash law to prevent dogs from running loose.
That suggestion, too, failed to make it into the revised ordinance.
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, falling short of requiring a leash.
Any animal found at large may be impounded and, if not claimed within five days, euthanized or adopted out, the county’s animal control ordinance says.
Leggett said Monday that the sheep attacks underscore the ineffectiveness of the county’s current ordinance at getting owners to keep their dogs properly confined.
“It’s not the dogs’ fault,” he said. “These dogs were just being dogs, and the problem is we have so many residents that relocated themselves into this rural setting and they have no understanding of what happens if they don’t keep their dogs under control.”
Leggett said he hears of attacks on farm animals by dogs several times a year in Washington County.