Though not the typical “everyday” residential neighborhood dog, the vicious attack of a dog and his owner by a pit bull last summer has the town looking to include residential neighborhoods in its leash law ordinance.
“The days of dogs running loose in neighborhoods needs to end,” said Mayor Pat Taylor at the March Town Board meeting.
Last year the town expanded the “Animals” section in its Code of Ordinances to include section 3-3: Responsibility to control dogs.
Basically, that section says two things – one regarding defecation and the other the use of leashes.
Dogs may not defecate on public property, streets, sidewalks, or play areas in the commercial district or on town property unless the owner immediately removes and disposes of it.
The next part says that no dogs whether leashed or not can be in the enclosed Highlands Ball Park. In addition, all dogs must be on a leash in the commercial district and on town property including sidewalks, the cemetery, the Greenway, K-H Founders Park, the Rec Park, etc.
Last summer, when a resident of Big Bearpen let his dog out in the evening, a pit bull that had been roaming the neighborhood attacked the dog and then the owner when he tried to disentangle the dogs. The dog was killed and the owner’s wounds required hospital care.
While the attack was taking place, there was some snafu between calling 9-1-1, the county’s Animal Control Department and the Highlands Police Department.
The Animal Control Department is not part of the Sheriff Department anymore and the Highlands Police Department doesn’t have a mutual aid agreement with the Animal Control Department like it does with the Sheriff Department.
Police Chief Bill Harrell said if the town’s ordinance had some “teeth” in it, and included the residential areas, his officers could do whatever is necessary and wouldn’t need a mutual aid agreement with the Animal Control Department.
That includes the ability to kill a vicious dog if less drastic methods such as tranquilizing aren’t available or effective or if no one can restrain the animal as well as including the “leash” requirement in residential areas.
The mayor suggested amending the chief’s suggestions by saying that dogs don’t have to be leashed in residential areas, if the owner has voice control over the animal and has a leash in hand.
The mayor’s suggestion follows:
Dogs in in R1, R2 and R3 residential zones must be on a leash with the following exceptions:
- On the dog owners’ property or domicile where the animal is controlled by a physical or electronic fence, or
- Where the dog owner is in immediate visual presence and in direct control with voice commands. Owners (owner, dog walker, dog sitter) who have their dogs under voice control must have a collar on their dog and a leash in hand. If the dog owner cannot control their animal off leash, or if the dog has no collar, or the owner possesses no leash, the owner can be cited for a violation of the ordinance. Also, there can be only one dog per owner at a time under voice command. Owners walking multiple dogs must have all dogs on leashes.
Chief Harrell said he could easily incorporate the mayor’s suggestions by making the ordinance town-wide with no stipulation as to commercial or residential zone and to include the “voice command” portion.
However, the suggestion to amend the ordinance to include the residential areas of town was not immediately accepted last week.
But, Mayor Taylor is adamant about the issue.
“I think I’m right on this issue. Do we have to have another dog attack to take action? Although an ordinance can’t prevent every incident, a comprehensive ordinance at least demonstrates our concern and good faith effort,” he said.
The town’s new Code Enforcement Officer John Cherry now has the truck, cage and training so “dog-catcher” can be added to his list of duties.
“My proposal would enable the police to handle situations without undue restrictions on dog owners,” said the mayor. “We should have a town-wide ordinance. If a pit bull was running loose anywhere without the owner having control, then Officer Cherry could immediately pick it up and take it to Animal Control [in Franklin],” he said.
Chief Harrell said the town has an agreement with the county’s Animal Control Department whereby it takes Highlands’ strays upon delivery.
Though the town’s fines concerning the control of dogs is hefty ($250) the chief said his department’s goal is to always gain compliance but to allow the officer’s discretion as in any other enforcement action on a case-by-case basis.
Still, Commissioner Eric Pierson spoke against the amendment regarding residential restrictions. He said he and his family often walk with their dog without a leash.
“I don’t want to limit what people can do with “everyday” dogs,” he said. I don’t want to hinder citizens’ ability to have dogs be dogs.”
Commissioner John Dotson said he has gone back and forth on the issue – first with his opinion siding with Pierson, then with Chief Harrell who convinced him otherwise but was now back to his original opinion.
“We need the ability to act but we need to come up with some verbiage that is broader. We are hitting a little ball with a huge bat,” he said.
Veterinarian Commissioner Amy Patterson, said people will never be able to always control dogs.
“We have to figure out a way to allow good dogs to be dogs,” she said.
The issue was sent to the Public Safety Committee for consideration.
– Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper