Modeled from Rutherford County’s own policy and with input and suggestions from the American Veterinarian Medical Association as well as state laws, the policy distinguishes between a “dangerous” and “vicious” dogs and levies penalties and restrictions to the dog owners.
The policy defines a dangerous dog as any that has “while off the property of its owner without provocation, bitten, attacked or endangered the safety of a human, domestic animal or livestock.”
The definition also includes any unprovoked behavior that may require a person to defend himself to avoid being attacked or bitten, and any that causes bodily injury by attacking a person or another domestic animal.
A vicious dog is defined in the policy as any dog that, without provocation has “attacked or attempted to attack a person, domestic animal, or livestock on two or more occasions.”
That definition also includes the repeated unprovoked behavior that requires someone to defend himself against the dog or caused bodily injury “that includes a substantial risk of death; or protracted unconsciousness; or extreme physical pain; or protracted obvious disfigurement.”
The policy makes exceptions for police dogs that are being used by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, any dog that attacks while in a properly secured pen or enclosure, protecting a person from another attack, or any time the dog attacks as a result of being provoked.
“If a dog is being teased or is protecting its owner or property, those are some exceptions,” Andrews said.
Andrews began sitting in on committee meetings in 2009 after she was bitten by a dog while riding her bicycle with a group of friends in the Providence area. Frustrated by the lack of action by the past Animal Control department, Andrews sought to change the way the department operated.
“Through that whole process I was just very frustrated,” Andrews said, pointing out that neither Animal Control nor any other local government department or law enforcement office took action against the dog or its owner.
After months of talking to local officials and participating in committee meetings, Andrews found county commissioners who were supportive of expanding the Animal Control department and creating a vicious and dangerous dog policy.
Animal Control Director Mary Burger, who was hired in January, has worked with Andrews and the other members of the Animal Control committee to improve the safety of the county by dealing with dog bite reports more stringently.
From January to May, there were 19 incidents of dog bites reported in Wilson County, according to documentation provided to the committee by Burger. Andrews said there are probably many more that go undocumented.
“We realized we didn’t have anything in writing about how to deal with a repeat offender,” she said.
When a violation of the policy occurs, if the Animal Control department deems the case should be referred the District Attorney’s office, the dog will be held at the department until the completion of any hearing to determine the dog’s status.
Andrews said dogs that are deemed dangerous or vicious must wear special tags that identify them as such. Also, their owners are responsible for any fees in holding the dog during a case or if the dog is to be euthanized, as determined by a court of law, its owners must still pay all fees associated with their animal.
Other restrictions in the policy require the owners to confine the dog in a secure enclosure that is approved by the department, their property must have a warning sign to alert others that a dangerous dog is on the premises, and if taken outside, the dog must have a leash and wear a humane muzzle.
For vicious dogs, the same restrictions apply, except any outdoor enclosure must be constructed in a manner that prevents the dog’s escape in any way. Also, the department will keep information on the dog, including photographs, and the owners may be required to have the dog spayed or neutered, attend obedience training and more.
“We really wanted to put a good structure in place for Mary,” Andrews said, referring to creating the policy that allows Burger to deal with these instances.
“Animal Control will monitor how well (the owners) are complying with these requirements,” she said.
While the policy is a step in the right direction to possibly preventing or dealing with dog bites in the county, Andrews said the responsibility is and has always been with the pet owners.
“We want to encourage people that if they have a dog, to be responsible,” she said.
Also, she said people should report any roaming dogs and any dog bites to the Animal Control department. While there were 19 reported bites in the past five months, Andrews believes there are many more that go unreported because people don’t think it’s worth their time to do so.
With the new policy, she said resolving these issues is much more effective and will take less time than when she was bitten in 2009.
“People need to report it, the only way things will change is if they report a bite and go through the system,” Andrews said.
You can read the full policy on the Animal Control department’s new website at www.wilsoncountytn.com/Animal%20Control.htm.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.