By CARL SMITH
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors will hold a second public hearing on a proposed vicious dog ordinance Nov. 21 during that month’s recess meeting.
Board President Marvell Howard said the ordinance could be adopted that same day if no radical or conflicting ideas are presented during the public hearing.
If adopted, the law would be published in local media outlets three times and would go into effect 30 days after the last publication.
Since the first public hearing mid-September, supervisors have compiled a second draft of the proposed ordinance with additional details toward fines, penalties and costs assessed by the justice court.
Section 9, which deals with these penalties, states any person “convicted of violating a provision of this chapter that does not include a specific penalty under state law shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, may be punishable by imprisonment for a period not to exceed six months or a fine not to exceed $500, or both, and all lawful costs, except that any person so convicted shall be fined a sum of not less than $25 for the first offense, not less than $50 for a second offense and not less than $100 for a third offense and all subsequent offenses.”
The court could also require up to 100 hours of community service in its rulings.
As with the previous draft, the new version defines vicious dogs with four points outlining behavior and intent. A vicious dog is defined as an animal “when unprovoked, that approaches a person in a dangerous, threatening or terrorizing manner, ... with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack, when unprovoked ... which bites, inflicts injury ... (or) is owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting ...”
The original draft’s definition did not include police dogs used to assist law enforcement or any animal trained, but the new draft extends that protection to any animal trained to assist a person under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dogs are also excused from the vicious definition if they attack a person in the process of committing a crime, trespassing, abusing the animal or has been observed abusing the animal in the past, “nor shall any dog be declared vicious if the dog was responding to pain or injury, or was protecting itself, its kennel or its offspring.”
Under state law, residents are required to have their dogs vaccinated for rabies. Under the new animal ordinance, it is unlawful for any person to harbor a dog that has not been inoculated.
The Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department will have the primary responsibility of enforcing the ordinance. Section 5 of the ordinance authorizes the destruction of dogs if they are determined vicious by the Oktibbeha County Justice Court, provided that two of the following requirements are met: “The dog is running at large or not properly confined; there is no ownership identification tag on the dog’s collar; there is no vaccination tag around the dog’s neck; attempts to peacefully capture the dog have been made but were unsuccessful.”
Vicious dogs that aggressively attack and injure a person, pose a serious and immediate threat can also be disposed of under the ordinance. Also, the sheriff’s department, county designee or any person “may cause any seriously injured or diseased dog to be euthanized by a licensed veterinarian or to discharge a firearm in order to mercifully end the life of a suffering animal.”
In regard to the destruction of an animal, the new draft outlaws exposing animals to poisonous substances.
During the first public hearing, comments were made by the public in support of a countywide leash law, but supervisors stopped short of committing to adding such provisions to the books.
Howard said the proposed ordinance is flexible enough for supervisors to revisit if the need for a leash law arises.
“At this particular point in time,” Howard said, “I don’t see that being put in place simply because of logistics — the cost of patrolling a county this size.”
District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson said he hopes the potential law will curb dog problems enough to avoid the need for a leash law.
“Any time we can get something like this on the books which will head off problems, it’ll be an advantage to the citizens of Oktibbeha County,” Jackson said. “Hopefully this will deter the problems we have right now. There will still be problems with those who do not keep an eye on their dogs. It won’t please everybody, but there’s nothing that does.”
Howard said the law’s implementation will provide the county with a law that places the burden or responsibility squarely on dog owners’ shoulders.
“I think it’s got enough teeth to make sure anyone in violation will be dealt with,” he said. “It offers some sort of real repercussions. Once violators start getting prosecuted, that will start to curb the problems our county is facing.”