Court to decide whether canines' behavior warrants use of a muzzle
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A new law in Warren County which affects dog owners leaves it to the court to decide whether a canine's behavior warrants a muzzle.
The Warren County Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting Tuesday voted 5-0 to approve the ordinance amendment with changes made to the original language as proposed. The revised ordinance as approved addresses issues of "reasonable person" and intimidating dogs on private property.
County Attorney Blair Mitchell said the changes came as a result of comments raised at the public hearing held on the proposed ordinance Aug. 21.
"We understand that the concern was if somebody is unusually skittish around dogs then they could complain that any dog, anytime anywhere was intimidating and that puts a big burden the owner," Mitchell said. "So this makes it always a call of the court and if the court says 'no, this person was just unusually afraid and is not, quote, the reasonable man, we will not declare that dog to be intimidating.'"
The county sought to add "intimidating" to the options available to the court in cases where a dog attacks or threatens a person or other animal. The court had only the definitions for dangerous and vicious dog which carried a higher threshhold to prove and harsher punishments.
The ordinance defines "intimidating dog" as a canine that attacks, charges or approaches a person or other animal, or attempts to take these actions, while barking, growling or behaving in any other threatening manner and under such circumstances a court would determine a reasonable person feels in fear of harm. Once the court determines a dog as intimidating the animal must wear a muzzle while in a public area or in a private place open to the public.
Authorities can charge an owner or custodian who continues to allow an intimidating dog to run at-large or unrestrained without a muzzle in a public area or private place open to the public with a class 1 misdemeanor.
The public hearings on the intimidating dog ordinance drew concerns from several owners who questioned the definition of "reasonable person." Speakers told the board "reasonable person" sounded too subjective and could open up dog owners to people who don't like the animals regardless of the canine's behavior.
Owners also raised concerns about a dog's behavior toward intruders on their private property. Supervisors added the clause that no dog shall be deemed intimidating if on private property not open to the public, Mitchell explained.
"So if the dog is in your yard and he's barking at somebody, as long as he doesn't cross from your yard into the street then he cannot be considered intimidating," Mitchell said.
In a related matter, the supervisors authorized staff to hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the county code pertaining to dangerous dogs.
A proposed amendment states a dog should not be labeled a dangerous dog if the court determines the animal is not dangerous.
A second amendment allows the court to order the owner of a dangerous dog to pay restitution for damages to a person hurt by the animal or to the owner of an animal injured or killed by the dangerous dog.
The third proposed change requires the owner of a dangerous dog to obtain a certificate from animal control within 45 days and pay a $150 fee. The owner must update the information required by the certificate by Jan. 31 of each year and submit an $85 fee to the treasurer. Animal control also must post such registration and updates on the Dangerous Dog Registry.