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Dog ordinance dies in fiscal court

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Magistrates object to leash law

By Ben Carlson

An ordinance that would have tightened the leash on potentially vicious and vicious dogs was killed last Tuesday morning by the Anderson County Fiscal Court.

Several magistrates said they were uncomfortable passing the ordinance because it contained what amounted to a leash law that would have required all dog owners to keep their dogs on a leash while off their property.

Currently, dogs can roam free on their own property, but must only be under voice command of their owners when off.

The issue of vicious dogs came to head earlier this year following a rash of attacks mostly involving pit bulls. One incident involved a boy playing basketball in his grandmother’s back yard who was attacked when a neighbor’s dog escaped a fenced yard. Another involved a deputy who was bitten while serving a warrant.

Another incident involved two pit bulls that escaped from a residence off North Main Street. The dogs reportedly killed a black lab, and then chased an animal control officer atop the roof of his vehicle. City police officers responded, eventually shooting the dog several times and running it over before it eventually was put down a couple of miles away.

That prompted magistrates to ask County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis to draft an ordinance that would make owning pit bulls expensive and prohibitive, She did, but a committee assembled by the fiscal court to review the ordinance and make suggestions immediately stripped the ordinance of pit bull specific references, opting instead for an ordinance that dealt with vicious and potentially vicious dogs only after an incident or at the discretion of animal control.

“I thought we were setting out to protect people against potentially vicious and vicious dogs,” said Magistrate John Wayne Conway, who joined magistrates Buddy Sims, Larry Smith and Forrest Dale Stevens in voting against the ordinance.

Voting for it were Judge-Executive Steve Cornish and Magistrate David Ruggles.

“This is not what Bobbi Jo thinks,” Lewis said.

“This is what you asked to do. This did start out that way.”

Lewis added that the ordinance would have helped protect against vicious dogs, because most attacks occur when a dog is off its owner’s property.

Stevens said he was opposed to people needing to leash their dog when off their property.

“Some dogs in the county run in their neighbor’s yard and don’t hurt anything,” he said. “My brother has a dog ... a neighborhood dog, that goes from house to house. There’s a lot in [the ordinance] that I can’t vote for.”

Cornish reminded Stevens that his brother’s dog is violating the county’s current ordinance.

“It could be picked up,” Cornish said.

Stevens said he would have voted for the portion of the ordinance that would have required owners of dogs that are declared potentially vicious or vicious to be registered, safely housed and other requirements, but it was the leash law to which he objected.

Sims, who chaired the committee comprised of Humane Society members, a veterinarian and dog trainer, said the final version of the ordinance is not what he had in mind.

“I didn’t bring back to the court what I intended to bring back,” he said, adding that he wanted a way to address the attacks from earlier in the year.

“My intent was to prevent those things from happening, and I don’t see how this is stopping any of that. I don’t know how to make it better.”

“The only way to keep potentially vicious and vicious dogs from attacking is to have a strict leash law,” Conway said. “That means every dog, and I can’t go along with that.”

Smith said the real problem is that the ordinance does not address irresponsible dog owners.

“If I have a vicious dog, it’s my responsibility, not my neighbor’s,” he said. “People don’t care if their dogs run deer or kill animals. Until we address the real situation, nothing’s going to change.”

Cornish said the proposed ordinance included penalties for those situations.

“Those are after the fact,” Smith said.

Cornish responded by saying the law against bank robbery is the same, meaning they only deal with someone after he or she robs the bank.

Cornish also referenced a poll on The Anderson News’ website that had 75 percent of respondents in favor of a countywide leash law.

“I know it’s not scientific, but it does give you the pulse of the community,” Cornish said.

“Even if 75 percent say we need it, I’m one of the 25 percent against it,” Conway said.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.