County eyes policy on aggressive animals

If your youngster walks to school past a yard that has a menacing dog on a leash, and you worry about the child’s safety, there is not much you can do about it legally.

Similarly, if you and your family are in the backyard and the neighbor has an intimidating animal that is on its way to knocking down the fence, there is little legal recourse. All you can do is plead with the neighbor to keep his pet under strict control.

If the animal in either of these instances — or other similar situations — hurts someone or attacks your pet, the county can take action against it and the owner.

But that is after the fact, said county Animal Services Manager Eric Anderson. He wants to see the county become proactive to prevent something bad from taking place.

Anderson and county Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm have drafted a “menacing and aggressive animals” ordinance that they will introduce at Tuesday’s meeting of the county Board of Supervisors. A formal public hearing will not take place until March 6.

“Right now ... our only ability to act is after the fact,” said county Supervisor Adam Hill, a dog lover and owner.

It is time to “get a little ahead of the game,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson. “We want to have some way of heading off a bad situation. There are folks who have not been the most responsible pet owners.”

In a report to supervisors, Hamm and Anderson explained that the Animal Services Division receives hundreds of reports each year from around the county about aggressive animals.

The division regularly receives calls from people walking on public sidewalks who pass aggressive dogs and feel are threatening and inadequately confined.

The pedestrians are dismayed, they wrote, “to be told that unless an animal actually succeeds in escaping the property and attacking a person or animal, there is little that animal services can do.”

The ordinance would require owners of “any animal whose aggressive behavior constitutes a potential risk” to make sure it is securely confined. Owners who don’t comply face a fine.

How does the county identify these animals? By hearing from the public, Anderson said in a telephone interview with The Tribune. “It’s a complaint-driven process.”

Anderson said the ordinance is not aimed at a particular breed of dog. It’s about “problem behavior. It’s not breed-specific. It’s a responsibility issue.”

Under the ordinance, it “won’t be illegal to own an aggressive animal,” he said. “But if you do, you have to take appropriate measures to keep it confined.”