By CARL SMITH
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors publicly unveiled the first draft of a potential countywide vicious dog ordinance Tuesday during a special public hearing.
Before hearing public comments, board President Marvell Howard handed copies of the draft to all attendees at the meeting.
The draft defines vicious dogs with four points outlining behavior and intent. Specifically, the draft defined vicious animals: “(No. 1) When unprovoked, approaches in a dangerous or terrorizing manner, any person in an apparent attitude of attack upon the streets and roads, sidewalks or any public grounds or places within the county; (No. 2) with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack, when unprovoked, to cause injury or otherwise endanger the safety of human beings, domestic dogs or livestock or poultry; (No. 3) which bites, inflicts injury, assaults or otherwise attacks a human being or domestic dog or livestock without provocation on public or private property; (No. 4) owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of a dogfight or any dog trained for dog fighting (sic).”
The definition does not include police animals when used to assist law enforcement during their official duties or a dog attempting to prevent a trespasser or other criminal action on its owner’s property.
Any dog deemed vicious under the ordinance must be vaccinated. Dog owners or those harboring dogs shall keep the animals vaccinated against rabies as provided by state laws.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to own, posses, keep or harbor any dog within Oktibbeha County unless said dog has been so inoculated against rabies,” the draft states. “If any dog suffering with rabies or reasonably suspected of suffering with rabies is caused or permitted to be at large within Oktibbeha County, said dog may be destroyed by any law officer or designated representative of the county without said officer/representative having to catch or impound said dog. No action shall be maintained by the owner of said dog for said dog being destroyed in accordance with this section.”
The Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department will have the primary responsibility of enforcing the ordinance, and supervisors said a continued relationship with Starkville Animal Control could continue under its provisions.
The draft also outlines various thresholds for the elimination of vicious dogs.
“When a dog is determined by the Justice Court Judge to be a vicious dog, that dog may be destroyed provided two of the following requirements are met: (No. 1) The dog is running at large or not properly confined; (No. 2) there is no ownership identification tag on the dog’s collar; (No. 3) there is no vaccination tag around the dog’s neck; (No. 4) attempts to peacefully capture the dog have been made and proven unsuccessful,”
Any dog that attacks and causes severe injury — broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery — or death of a human “shall be immediately confiscated and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner.” Diseased or seriously injured dogs and any animal that possesses a serious and immediate threat to human animal would also be subject to disposal under the proposed draft.
The draft states no dog shall be deemed vicious if any threat or injury was suffered by a person willfully trespassing on the owner’s property, tormenting the dog in any manner, or committing or attempting to commit a crime. Also, dogs responding to pain or injury, or protecting itself, its kennel or offspring would not be deemed vicious under the proposed ordinance.
“The sheriff’s department shall order the owner of a vicious dog to confine the dog at all times indoors or in a proper, secure enclosure, which shall consist of a securely enclosed and locked pen or structure suitable to prevent the entry of young children ... and designed to prevent the dog from escaping,” the draft states. “The owner of such dog shall conspicuously display on the pen or structure ... a sign designed with a warning symbol provided by the sheriff’s department which indicates to both children and adults the presence of a vicious dog.”
Howard said the supervisors developed the draft because of the growing problem with animal attacks.
“The board has tiptoed around,” he said. “I feel like we might as well talk about the specifics.”
Howard discussed the potential for having special requirements — including photographic registration with the sheriff’s department — for specific breeds of dogs, but the board stopped short of saying it would develop those requirements.
The board also had various discussions with the public about developing code for nuisance animals — those dogs which are not vicious, but do roam free and cause various havoc in rural gardens or with livestock. Supervisors addressed a potential leash law for the county, but District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson said the scope of enacting such legislation would be difficult.
“One reason Starkville gets away with a leash law is because they live on each other,” he said. “It would be enormous to try and enforce that in the county.”
District 1 Supervisor Carl Clardy said even though no ordinance could prevent every potential animal attack, the county “must protect our people and our livestock.”
The board took no action following the public hearing, and Howard said another public hearing would be scheduled on the topic.
The board will not vote on the issue in its recess meeting Thursday, he said, and could set a date for the second hearing.