Proposed changes to Lexington’s vicious dog ordinance that would allow animal control officers to temporarily quarantine dogs after vicious attacks will go to the full Urban County Council for a vote.
Under the proposed changes, animal control officers would be able to hold a dog after they attack a human or another domestic animal for 10 days. The other changes include requiring vicious dogs be spayed or neutered, and the creation of a photo registry of all vicious dogs. Owners who don’t comply can be fined.
The Urban County Planning and Public Works Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to move the revamped ordinance to the full council. The 15-member council won’t take a final vote on the changes, which have been debated and discussed for almost six months, for more than a month.
Councilwoman Peggy Henson proposed the changes after a dog in her neighborhood injured people and animals on three occasions. First the dog attacked a woman and her dog, which required hospital care and stitches. The dog then attacked a cat. Later, the dog attacked a woman and her two small dogs. The woman had minor injuries, but the injuries to the two dogs were much more serious, Henson said.
Henson was shocked to learn the merged government’s vicious dog ordinance does not allow animal control officer to seize the dog.
Under the ordinance, a dog is defined as vicious if it is owned for the purpose of fighting, or if the dog has bitten a human or animal without cause, or if it has been declared by a court as a vicious dog.
A dog declared vicious must be kept on the owner’s property either indoors or in a yard with a locked fence. If it leaves the owner’s property, it must be restrained by a leash and a muzzle. (The muzzle cannot cause harm to the dog or restrict its vision or breathing).
The changes would also require that a vicious dog be in a photo registry and have a microchip. The dog must be spayed or neutered. Owners who don’t comply could be fined between $200 and $500. The ordinance also would allow animal control officers to take temporary possession of any dog that the officer has probable cause to suspect has bitten a human without being provoked. The animal could be held for 10 days if no criminal or civil complaint is filed against the owner. If a complaint is filed, animal control can keep the animal past the 10 days until a court determines whether the dog is vicious.
Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered on whether the definition of a vicious dog should be changed to include dogs that bite domestic animals and/or humans. The state vicious dog statue defines a vicious dog as one that bites a human. It does not include dogs that bite another domestic animal, said Animal Care and Control Chief Nathan Bowling.
“We can take temporary possession of an animal for 10 days,” Bowling said. “We only have 10-day window to bring civil or criminal charge. We can’t bring a criminal charge against somebody unless it says so under the state law.”
But city lawyers told the council Tuesday the state law allows the city to make additions to the state vicious dog law. Adding attacks on domestic animals is allowed, city lawyers said.
Several council members said their top animal control complaint involves dogs that attack other dogs.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb said she has received complaints from people in her district who are frustrated when a dog attacks another dog and nothing happens to either the dog or the owner.
“For that reason, I would be against removing it,” Lamb said.
Councilman James Brown agreed. One of his constituents had a similar problem. A dog attacked her dog. Nothing was done to do the dog or the owner. Since discussions about the vicious dog ordinance began in January, several dog owners have testified before the council about concerns with the vicious dog ordinance.
Bowling said not every animal is vicious. Some are protective and may only bite if another dog or person enters their property. Moreover, the state law says the dog has to be off its own property to be considered vicious. That’s a problem.
Some dogs roam. By the time animal control arrives, the dog that attacked another dog is already back in their home or on their own property. Bowling said he is concerned the public will expect every animal that attacks another animal will be impounded. Animal control can’t handle a huge influx of animals.
The ordinance allows animal control to charge dog owners $8 for every day the animal is impounded.
Henson said they still have time to make changes in the ordinance. The first vote to put the ordinance on the council’s docket won’t be for another 30 days, she said.
Animal control receives between 700 and 800 calls a year regarding vicious dogs. Most of those dogs are not vicious as defined by the ordinance, Bowling said. Most are aggressive dogs.