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Animal Control Authority hears dog owners' appeals

July 23, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Animal Control Authority heard appeals Thursday night from the owners of four dogs deemed vicious and dangerous or potentially vicious and dangerous based on reports that they had attacked other people's pets.

In one case, the authority, a five-member board charged with hearing animal-control cases, dropped the vicious and dangerous designation for a pit bull accused of biting a boxer puppy on May 23. Authority members said there was not enough evidence the accused pit bull was the one from the attack.

The pit bull's owner, Allan Platou of Hagerstown, said the dog had gone out only briefly the afternoon of the attack, running immediately back inside because it was raining heavily. The owner of the boxer puppy was not at the hearing.

In that case, the pit bull already had been deemed potentially vicious and dangerous because it charged an animal control officer May 5.

Under Washington County's animal control ordinance, "potentially vicious and dangerous" is a less-serious designation that is removed after 18 months if there are no further violations. The dog and owner might be ordered to complete training.

"Vicious and dangerous" is applied to dogs that attack two or more times in 18 months or cause severe injury and carries restrictions including a requirement to be muzzled when outside the house. Inside the City of Hagerstown, vicious and dangerous dogs may not be kept at all.

Platou's pit bull was impounded after the May 23 incident. The authority's decision to drop the vicious and dangerous label meant the dog could be returned to its owners.

In another case, the authority downgraded a vicious and dangerous designation to potentially vicious and dangerous for a pit bull-boxer mix that attacked a cat April 30.

In that case, the dog and the cat live in different halves of a duplex and had a history of taunting each other from opposite sides of a storm door. The dog's owner, Carl Booker, said a friend of the cat owner had let the dog off its leash as the neighbors sat talking on the front porch and, when the cat owner opened her door to bring a chair outside, the dog darted into her house.

The cat survived the attack, but had a fractured jaw and cheek and a torn eye, lost seven claws and was "traumatized beyond repair," the cat's owner said.

The dog owner said wearing a muzzle since being declared vicious and dangerous had made his dog "mad," and the cat's owner said she did not want the dog declared vicious and dangerous.

Authority member Kathleen Carr said she thought the history of taunting between the dog and cat should be considered provocation for the attack.

Because the dog was downgraded to potentially vicious and dangerous, it will not have to wear the muzzle, but the authority ordered that it be kept on a leash when not in the house.

In the other two cases, the authority upheld potentially vicious and dangerous designations.

One involved a German shepherd owned by Dawn Wolters of Halfway that got out of its kennel and bit a passing pit bull on April 21. In that case, Wolters said the German shepherd had, on a previous occasion, been bitten by the pit bull through a fence and was acting in self-defense. The authority members decided the April 21 bite was unprovoked.

The other potentially vicious and dangerous designation the authority upheld was for an Australian blue heeler owned by Robert Chapman of Hagerstown that charged at a neighbor's Chihuahua June 7.

The owner of the Chihuahua said the blue heeler had bitten the Chihuahua before, so when he saw it charging in the same way on June 7, he kicked the blue heeler before it could attack his dog.

Authority members agreed that, based on prior history, the incident could be considered an attempted attack or "behavior that reasonably would have required a person to take defensive action to prevent bodily injury," a qualifying offense under the animal control ordinance.

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