Editorial

You should be able to walk down the street without fear of being attacked.

And yet many residents in Victoria County have come to expect that walking around their neighborhood can regularly result in attacks and harassment from stray and loose dogs.

This is a problem with many contributing factors that range from irresponsible dog owners to lax local laws to local government officials who have failed to act.

It’s so bad that Bloomington resident Makenna Cornelius, 19, always brings along protection when walking her dog, Whisky. She carries a 4-foot cattle prod to fend of the many dogs that run loose in her neighborhood. But that’s hardly unusual in the Crossroads.

In a recent Victoria Advocate poll, about 40% of those who responded said there was a loose dog problem in their community. It’s a problem that’s long persisted in the area, and for many there seems to be no solution in sight.

Cornelius and two others who recently talked to the Victoria Advocate said they have contacted the county’s animal control center about the problem. They also said they have never been satisfied with the response.

There’s admittedly a bit of humor in watching a tiny Chihuahua chase a walker or jogger down the road, although it’s far less funny for the person being chased.

When the dog is larger or aggressive, there’s potential for real danger.

In recent years, many residents have been attacked. Some have suffered permanent injuries. Others have been nearly killed.

In 2019, A Victoria woman in her 60s was savagely mauled by two pit bulls owned by a Bloomington man. The dogs’ bites were so severe they exposed tendons and muscles on the woman’s body.

Earlier that year in January, a Victoria woman suffered a serious bite to her arm that left it looking like “a busted can of biscuits,” she said. She was bitten while protecting her own dog from a larger dog.

In 2017, a Victoria man was hospitalized after a dog bit his chest while he was trying to protect his pet Pekingese. They were walking through a Victoria neighborhood with a nearby school where small children frequently walk from.

The man’s Pekingese was nearly killed, and the man incurred about $9,000 in hospital fees, he said.

Those attacks are just a few to make headlines locally. For years, the Advocate has covered at least several serious dog attacks every year with many others going unreported.

From 2014 to 2019, more than 650 dog bites were reported in Victoria County.

Victoria County leaders need to do more to prevent harassment, bites and attacks.

In a Victoria Advocate story published Tuesday, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Danny Garcia said he is aware of the problem in Bloomington as well as elsewhere in his precinct and county.

Although Garcia is correct in saying that a big part of the problem is irresponsible dog owners, the responsibility to protect residents ultimately lies with county leaders.

To say fixing the problem is beyond local government’s control is being shortsighted.

While there may not be enough animal control officers to regularly patrol county communities like Bloomington now, that can be changed. County leaders can allocate a bigger budget to the animal control center. County commissioners have regularly approved budget increases for many other county offices.

County leaders have also talked about hosting a town hall to communicate with residents about the problem, but no date has been set.

Yes, educating bad owners about responsible dog ownership can help, but there needs to be concrete steps taken to make that education happen. And Garcia and other county leaders need to be prepared to consider passing a leash law in the county or other laws that might stiffen penalties for bad owners.

Already in Victoria city limits, dog owners are required to leash their dogs.

Those laws might be somewhat unpopular, but the reality is that necessary decisions by local government leaders are sometimes that — unpopular.

Elected leaders should not make decisions solely because a majority of their constituents support them. They should do what is right, even when they are acting to protect a minority.

In this case, that minority is made up of residents who regularly walk or bike around their neighborhood, whether that be out of necessity or for recreation. They are people who walk their dogs, children who play outside, joggers, bikers and people simply enjoying some fresh air.

Those people have every right to go outside without worrying of being seriously mauled. They should not have to routinely carry weapons, like a cattle prod, to defend themselves.

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This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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