By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County may soon tighten its leash laws and muzzle its growling dogs.
Now the Board of Supervisors plans to put teeth in its leash laws in an effort to reign in dogs left to roam unrestricted. The matter comes up for a public hearing Tuesday.
County Administrator Douglas Stanley said the office has received complaints from residents about owners or custodians allowing dogs in their care to run off-leash on the walking trails at Eastham Park and Rockland Park. Both parks lie outside the town limits.
As Stanley explained Friday the county has regulations pertaining to owners walking dogs without leashes. However under the current rules only parks and recreation staff can enforce the leash requirements.
Such restrictions would not apply to the Warren County Dog Park in Eastham Park set to open later this month. Stanley noted that the county began working on ways to address the complaints prior to the construction of the dog park.
Animal control officers with the sheriff's office have expressed a willingness to enforce a leash law limited to county parks, according to Stanley.
The proposed ordinance defines an unrestricted dog as a canine not under control of the owner or its agent either by leash, cord, chain or primary enclosure when of the property of premises of the owner or custodian. The ordinance would prohibit the owner or custodian from allowing the dog to run unrestricted within the boundaries of any public park in the county but outside the town limits.
"Rather than being a park rule and park staff having to enforce it, in addition the sheriff's office can assist us with enforcing these regulations now," Stanley said.
Any person found guilty faces conviction of a class 4 misdemeanor and a fine, according to county information. A person may also prepay the $50 fine plus costs through the Warren County General District Court.
Supervisors plan to address another dog-related matter during a public hearing Tuesday.
Animal control officers have been involved in situations where a dog has acted aggressively toward a person or other animal but did not inflict any bodily injury to either human or animal, according to information from the county.
Animal control only has the authority to label an aggressive dog as either "dangerous" or "vicious." With an ordinance defining "intimidating dog," animal control could follow procedures set forth in the proposed regulations for the court to determine such dog is "intimidating."
As the administrator explained, in a situation where a dog nips at another canine or a person in Warren County, a judge only has the option to declare the offending animal either vicious or dangerous or to give no designation. Owners or custodians of a dog declared vicious or dangerous by a judge must follow strict regulations while maintaining the animal.
"So this is a lesser standard that we don't have now, but it's less onerous than having them declared a dangerous or vicious dog," Stanley said.
The proposed ordinance defines an intimidating dog as a canine that attacks, charges or approaches, or attempts these actions against a person or other animal while barking, growling or in any other threatening manner and under circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to be startled, afraid or in fear of such dog.
Law enforcement can charge the owner or custodian with a misdemeanor for continuing to allow an intimidating dog to run at-large or unrestrained without a muzzle in a public place or private place open to the public, according to the county information.
Under circumstances listed in the proposed ordinance, a dog displaying such behavior may not qualify as intimidating. Those instances include: If both animals share the same owner; where the owner or custodian could lawfully use force to defend person or property under the same circumstances; if the dog is engaged with the owner or custodian as part of a lawful hunting or lawful dog-handling event; where the dog has been provoked, tormented, abused or assaulted; if the dog is a police dog engaged in the performance of its duties; if the dog was responding to an injury or was protecting itself, its kennel or offspring; or for good cause as determined by the court.
The proposed ordinance also states no canine or crossbreed can be found "intimidating" solely because of its breed, nor is the ownership of a particular breed prohibited.