Victoria County dog ordinance to get some bite

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 22, 2012 at 2:22 a.m.
Updated July 23, 2012 at 2:23 a.m.

In the interest of public safety, Victoria County Commissioners say they soon will adopt a dangerous dog ordinance, but some critics call the effort overreaching.

Although the ordinance, which was presented to commissioners July 16, notes that "any dog situated within the county may constitute a dangerous dog," Christina Paris said she felt like her daughter's pit bull is targeted.

"This all started with the pit bulls," Paris said. "There's no specific type of breed listed, but we all know it's this one."

Jim Allison, general counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, is expected to return a final draft of the ordinance to commissioners on July 30 for the vote.

Allison's original task was to review the existing ordinance, and update and improve it.

The county's dog ordinance had a section for "vicious dogs," but because the state has changed its statutes, the ordinance's language was no longer up-to-date.

Allison said there were significant differences between the old and new language.

The new ordinance will be easier to administer, he said.

The old rule required that an officer issue a citation to an owner to remove the dog from the county, then wait 10 days before taking action. The modern, revised version says you can take that dog into immediate custody.

"We needed to eliminate that 10-day waiting period and have authority to take action whenever there's a reasonable cause to believe that that dog has attacked someone or made unprovoked acts to attack someone so it doesn't continue to be a danger to the public," Allison said.

Another change is the hearing process. Before, the sheriff, county judge, county attorney or an appointee served on a hearing committee to determine if a dog was dangerous. Under the new ordinance, that hearing is led by the city-county health department.

The new ordinance also increases the penalty. Before, it was a $150 fine, but if the new ordinance passes, it will be a Class C misdemeanor, which has a $500 fine.

It outlines several requirements for owners of dangerous dogs.

They must make their dog wear a red, county-issued "dangerous dog" collar tag; keep their animal confined in a 6-foot-tall, locked fenced area clearly marked as containing a dangerous dog; restrained on a leash and muzzle when it is not in its fence; have a microchip implanted and insured for at least $100,000.

Allison said the ordinance is reasonable, and as comprehensive as a county can adopt.

Paris called the insurance policy "overboard."

Her daughter, Jessica Leos, said she sees both sides of the issue.

"So much has happened with pit bull attacks and people getting hurt," she said. "Even though I don't agree with it, it might be the right thing to do."

Leos said she would follow any rules required of her.

"I don't think I could handle giving him away or having him euthanized," she said of her dog. "In order to keep him, I'd do whatever I had to do."

Commissioner Gary Burns said he felt the county's hands were tied in dealing with aggressive or dangerous dogs. He said the number of dog attacks is too high.

"It's a tough one," Burns said. "You recognize the dog owners' rights, but it's also peoples' rights to be safe and not feel threatened when they're minding their own business ... You want to protect folks, but folks want to protect their property."

He said he feels like the ordinance ultimately benefits both dog owners and the public by outlining specific definition for a dangerous dog and guidelines for owning one.

"It's not any more of this one bite rule, now the revision puts a little more, no pun intended, but a little more bite in the ordinance to determine what is a dangerous dog," Burns said. "I don't have to be bit by a dog to know it's dangerous when I know there's a good possibility he's going to bite me."



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