County may put leash on dog owners

San Luis Obispo County is proposing to put some teeth in regulations aimed at protecting the public from aggressive animals. A new ordinance introduced Tuesday would give animal control officers the ability to issue citations to the owners of menacing dogs and other animals that aren’t adequately contained.

Under current rules, enforcement actions can only be taken after a dog gets loose — for example, by jumping a fence or digging out of a yard — and attacks. The new ordinance, if approved, would take a more proactive approach by requiring owners of aggressive dogs to keep them contained in enclosures “of aconstruction adequate to keep it securely confined.” It also would require dog owners to ensure their pets do not attack other animals.

Eric Anderson, county Animals Services manager, says an “education-based approach” would be used; dog owners would initially be warned and advised to better contain their dogs.

Violators who don’t comply could face fines of $50 for afirst offense; $100 for asecond; and $250 for each subsequent offense within the same calendar year. That’s more than fair and, if anything, a little too lenient, especially for repeat offenders.

Responsible dog owners should not object to the regulation, which provides another layer of protection not only for the public, but also for dogs. Among many other dangers, pets on the loose run the risk of being hit by cars, being attacked by other animals, and wandering off and never returning home. What pet owner would want that?

That said, we would hate to see this ordinance lead to the inhumane tethering or chaining of animals. To prevent that, we strongly urge that dog owners be reminded that California has a statewide law that bans chaining or tethering dogs:

“No person shall tether, fasten, chain, tie, or restrain a dog, or cause a dog or cause a dog to be tethered, fastened, chained, tied, or restrained, to a dog house, tree, fence, or any other stationary object.” (Exceptions are made for animals attached to a running line, pulley or trolley system.)

In tandem, the existing state law against chaining dogs and a new local containment ordinance should provide the tools that officers need to provide for the safety of the public, without jeopardizing animal welfare.

We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to approve the local ordinance when it comes up for a hearing March 6.