A dog problem out on County Road 224 has captivated the attention of many in the county following numerous social media posts during the last week. Several dogs have been injured (and killed) by a pack of dogs during the last year, prompting scrutiny on the enforcement of the county’s vicious dog ordinance.
And if you think this topic sounds familiar, you are right. I wrote about the county’s vicious dog ordinance back in September, explaining the nine year-old ordinance has been problematic. Now to make a long story short, the bottom line (no pun intended) is that if folks don’t properly restrain dangerous dogs in the county, it is going to take taxpayer money to address the issue. Or you could say the ordinance is all bark and no teeth without some financial backing.
Former Board Attorney John Crow and an earlier Board of Supervisors worked on the ordinance off and on for over a year, marking the first attempt to regulate dogs in the county deemed dangerous or potentially dangerous. The ordinance provided seemingly strict guidelines for how to handle a complaint, but in hindsight it hasn’t been that easy.
Now for a simple explanation: if the sheriff’s department receives a complaint about a dangerous or potentially dangerous dog, the department has three days to conduct an investigation to make a determination. If the dog is deemed dangerous, the sheriff’s department has five days to notify the owner of dog. After the owner receives notice, the sheriff’s office shall impound the dog until the owner builds a proper enclosure, vaccinates the dog for rabies and registers the dog with the sheriff’s department (includes a $50 fee). Offenders can also be fined and potentially face jail time.
One problem is the sheriff’s department doesn’t have a kennel to house a dog. There has been talk, off an on, during the last nine years to build a kennel. Another problem is the sheriff’s department does not have deputies trained as Animal Control Officers. There are probably many situations where a dog can be caught with little risk or expertise, but there will be times when it is more serious. Plus there are many times when the sheriff’s department is already stretched thin responding to people problems. Which brings us back to the bottom line, it will take taxpayer money to build a kennel, and it will take likely taxpayer money to train and equip a deputy to do the job.
Back to the problem on County Road 224, the sheriff and a couple of deputies were able to seize five of the dogs from the property Monday morning. The dogs were taken to the city-owned kennel, which has seen little use since the City of Water Valley contracted with Second Chance Animal Alliance (SCAA) to handle animal issues in Water Valley.
In the city it is much easier to regular dogs. For starters there is a leash law which allows any dog running at-large to be picked up. And if a dog or other animal is picked up, the city has a contract with SCAA to house it.
County supervisors tried a similar deal with SCAA. In August, 2018, a contract was signed for the county to pay $1,000 per month to SCAA to handle animal problems, duties that included responding to reports of negligence or stray dogs in addition to answering calls about vicious dogs. It was a Herculean effort by the SCAA volunteers, and overwhelming to say the least. After 16 months, in April 2019, SCAA volunteers returned to the board to request $3,500 per month to provide the service. Supervisors balked at the hefty increase and the deal ended.
Shortly afterwards there was talk to build a kennel at the sheriff’s department but since then the topic has mostly been quiet. Mostly, meaning there have been periodic issues that brought renewed scrutiny. This latest issue on County Road 224 has been the most publicized. A Facebook page, Justice for Lennon, has been created to update the public on the situation and report on the response from the sheriff’s department.
There are lots of unanswered questions. Does the county need a part-time dog catcher? Does the county need to get in the business of housing dogs? Would SCAA be willing to contract with the county again?
This may be a good time for input from the public, maybe there are some good ideas on how to address these issues. It’s easy to blame supervisors, but after covering meetings for years I can attest that they work hard to manage the budget and the taxpayers’ dollars. It’s easy to blame the sheriff’s department, because they are in charge of enforcing the laws in the county. But I can tell you from listening to radio traffic on the scanner, they are stretched thin. Hopefully the funding of two new deputies recently approved by supervisors will help.
Meanwhile the dog calls continue. Monday afternoon a deputy was needed on County Road 232. EMTs on the scene were unable to exit their ambulance due to the patient’s vicious dog.