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County considers what to do about aggressive dogs

By Melissa Crowe
April 2, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated April 2, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.

Pauline Lassmann asks Jim Allison, general counsel for the County Judges' and Commissioners' Association of Texas,  if an owner is legally responsible when a dog attack occurs after being provoked by a child. Allison replied, saying that the owner has "the right of way" when an incident takes place on the owner's property.  Lassmann, who owns an Australian shepherd, a yorkie, and a toy fox terrier, called for more parental responsibilty and public awareness.

Commissioners also:

Approved Victoria Regional Airports proposal for air service consulting services with Mead & Hunt, Inc;Approved detention and residential contracts with Refugio and Guadalupe counties for the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center;Approved a $95,288 contract for parking improvements at the detention center in Precinct 4.

Definition of terms:

An animal that has on two previous occasions, without provocation, attacked or bitten any person or other animal, or any individual animal, which the local health authority has reason to believe has a dangerous disposition, or any animal which the local health authority has reason to believe has a dangerous disposition likely to be harmful to humans or other animals.Any vicious animal found running at-large may be destroyed by any peace officer in the interest of public safety.

It is illegal to keep any dog, which has been specifically trained to attack, in any area for the protection of people or property, unless the dog is physically confined to a specific area, or is under complete and absolute control.A peace officer may order any owner or person in custody of an animal to remove that animal permanently from the county, even if an appeal is filed.Source: Victoria County

When it comes to restricting dog ownership, Victoria County Commissioners say their focus is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Commissioners discussed their options Monday of dealing with aggressive dogs and those animals' owners.

County Judge Don Pozzi said he is convinced the county needs more public awareness and community education.

No action was taken at the meeting.

If the court decides to adopt a resolution, there will need to be a public hearing and more discussion, Pozzi said.

Sister Maria Garcia, of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, demanded answers.

"They have these laws already, but how are they enforcing those laws? Who's making sure the owners are responsible? Up to what point are we going to allow this to happen?" she asked. "The innocent are the ones who are the victims."

Jim Allison, general counsel for the County Judges' and Commissioners' Association of Texas, answered residents' and commissioners' questions regarding rights, responsibility and potential action.

"You don't have to necessarily wait for (a dog) to bite someone," Allison said. "But you're not going to prevent every aggravated attack by a dog."

Texas has laws against creating breed-specific legislation, whether it names one breed or a dozen. Statutes exist that already affect dangerous or aggressive animals, as listed in the state health code, sections 822 and 824.

"There's not much that you're already doing that's not already allowed by statute," Allison said.

Namely, the county's program addresses vaccinations, registration and running-at-large. It also defines vicious animals and outlines action, which includes seizing the animal.

Pozzi said he and the commissioners have received many calls regarding aggressive dogs since the string of attacks in recent weeks, one of which resulted in the death of Kylar Johnson, a 4-year-old boy.

"It goes from do nothing to kick every dog out of Victoria County," Pozzi said. "I know the community is concerned. I'm concerned."

He said the court will consider adding to the ordinance passed last April.

Elizabeth Gonzales, a local pit bull owner, asked about her rights as a dog owner if someone wanders onto her yard unsupervised.

"My dog is not aggressive - he's real friendly," she said.

If the dog is not making unprovoked acts of aggression, the owner is fine, Allison said. If the dog acts aggressively unprovoked, even if it is on its own property, it could be reported.

"Good fences make good neighbors," he said.

Residents should report any aggressive animal they encounter, he said. However, it could be a burden on whoever steps up as they would need to attend hearings and testify to prove the animal was aggressive, he said.

Jessica Macias, of Victoria, helped last week during the search for the missing toddler.

"Passions are high right now," she said. "The current laws are reactive rather than proactive."

She suggested requiring dog owners, whose animals are considered dangerous or aggressive, to take out a $250,000 insurance policy and have the animal micro-chipped.

Allison said from his perspective, once a dog is determined to be dangerous, very few owners get the permit and opt instead to get rid of it.

He said he expects there will be legislation proposed during the next session.

Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said the meeting was a step in changing policy.

"The most important aspect of today was that they articulated what laws and ordinances exist," he said. "We have confronted organized crime issues, on location-to-location (pit bulls) have been the dog of choice, although not exclusively."

He said he thinks awareness and concerns will continue as the issue is not limited to the city or county.

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