At last week’s Town Board meeting, Highlands Town Board of Commissioners approved an amendment to the Town’s definition of “Nuisance Dog” giving the Highlands Police Department the authority to pick up a nuisance dog if the owner cannot be located.
Highlands currently has a leash law for the commercial district in downtown, but police were somewhat shackled (pun intended) when complaints came in from residential areas – particularly regarding a pit bull attack at a residence on Little Bear Pen last season.
HPD Chief Bill Harrell said newly hired Code Enforcement Officer John Cherry has been trained to handle dogs and is equipped to quarantine problematic animals if the owner cannot be located. If HPD receives a call complaining of a dog causing a problem, it can respond and it’s up to the officer’s discretion on scene to determine what steps need to be taken.
Harrell added that Cherry is equipped with a chip reader and all attempts to identify and locate a dog’s owner will be made before the animal is quarantined. HPD has an agreement with Macon County Animal Control to impound any dogs if necessary, even after hours through their on-call staff.
“It keeps the impact to a minimum and gives the chief some enforcement authority and allows his officers to use their discretion,” said Commissioner Donnie Calloway at last week’s meeting.
Commissioner Eric Pierson said it solves the problem of giving HPD authority to do what needs to be done when calls are made from residential areas and Commissioner Amy Patterson said it was “win, win.”
The definition of Nuisance Dog before the amendment was approved read as follows:
(a) The keeping or maintenance of any dog which by prolonged and habitual barking, howling, or whining causes serious annoyance to neighboring residents and interferes with the reasonable use and enjoyment of the premises occupied by such residents, or with the reasonable use and enjoyment of the public streets, sidewalks, or other public areas.
Commissioners added the following to the original definition:
(b) Any dog which leaves the owner’s property and causes any damage to real or personal property or displays any aggressive behavior, and
(c) Any dog at-large may be seized, and if an owner is not located, the dog will be impounded and confined in the animal shelter and thereafter adopted out or disposed of pursuant to procedures of the animal shelter and applicable state law.
HPD can also slap on a $250 fine for habitual offenders. Harrell said HPD is not going to cruise neighborhood roads looking for loose dogs, and the fine will likely only come into play for repeat offenders.
“It’s up to the officer’s discretion, as are most enforcement actions,” said Harrell. “Our main objective is to gain compliance. It’s got to be obviously neglectful, irresponsible, and aggressive toward public safety and our community’s renown quality of life to trigger a firmer enforcement action.”
The Board voted on amending the nuisance dog definition based on the recommendations from the Public Safety Committee who discussed the issue at length during two committee meetings. Commissioners Pierson and Calloway are on the Public Safety Committee. Members went back and forth over what language to use, whether an owner has a dog in “physical” control or “sufficient” control, is the animal properly “restrained” if it’s an 80-pound rottweiler being held by a 6-year-old, is the child “competent” of controlling that dog?
“If an animal is causing a problem and a complaint has been made, we find the owner and make a reasonable request and we expect a reasonable effort to resolve the problem,” said Harrell at the first committee meeting the issue was discussed. “We’re going to use an extreme amount of discretion and a lot of common sense will be involved.”