By Alyssa Schnugg
The Oxford Board of Aldermen is considering an ordinance amendment that would define a “vicious dog” and require owners of such dogs to have a physical fence and carry liability insurance.
While the city has had a leash law in place for many years, there has been no law regarding dogs known to attack other animals or people, or requirements for the owners of such dogs.
The Board heard the first reading of the proposed ordinance amendment Tuesday. A public hearing, and possible vote, will be held at the Board’s next regular meeting at 5 p.m. on Aug. 18.
The ordinance defines a vicious dog as:
- Any dog with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack without provocation, to cause injury to, or to otherwise threaten or endanger the safety of human beings, pets, or domesticated animals; or
- Any dog that bites, inflicts injury, assaults, or otherwise attacks a human being, pet or domesticated animal without provocation;
- Any dog that has been trained to fight with another animal
Exceptions include any dog trained for use by law enforcement personnel and actually engaged in service to a particular law enforcement agency, or under the physical control of an active duty law enforcement officer; any dog who attacks a person over the age of 14 who willfully trespasses or commits some other tort upon the real property of the owner of the dog, or who otherwise teases, torments or abuses said dogs.
Determining whether a dog should be labeled as a “vicious dog” will be done by a Municipal Court judge after a complaint is filed with the Oxford Police Department. If the court deems the dog to be “vicious,” the owner must adhere to the proposed requirements for such dogs. The owner can appeal the court’s decision.
All vicious dogs, while on the owner’s property, shall be securely confined indoors or confined outdoors in a secure enclosure from which the dog cannot escape, and into which children or unauthorized persons cannot enter. Underground electric fences are not an approved method of confining dogs deemed to be vicious.
Vicious dogs must be restrained when off their property by a person at least 18 years old and must wear a muzzle. No vicious dogs may be kept on a porch or patio.
All owners, keepers, or harborers of vicious dogs must place signs that warn others to beware of a vicious dog on the property. No vicious dog will be allowed to be kept within 100 yards of a school, daycare facility or other facility designed primarily to provide services to children.
The owner or keeper of a vicious dog shall immediately notify the Oxford Police Department and the Animal Control Officer if their dog is loose, unconfined, or is otherwise missing or if such dog has attacked another animal or human.
Owners of vicious dogs will also be required to obtain and maintain general liability insurance covering property damage and bodily injury caused by the vicious dog, with a combined single limit of $25,000 per occurrence, and may be required to show proof of such insurance within 30 days after the court has made its determination.
If an owner of a dog deemed by the court to be a “vicious dog” fails to adhere to the new requirements they could face being charged with a misdemeanor crime which carries a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $1,000 and possible imprisonment of up to 90 days.
If the court finds that the owner of a vicious dog is unable or unfit to provide the necessary safeguards to prevent the animal from causing further harm to a person, pet, or other domesticated animals the court may order that the animal be permanently forfeited and released to the city animal shelter.
Dog attack sheds light on lack of city law
The need for a vicious dog ordinance was brought to the Aldermen’s attention recently by Leslie Walkington after her neighbor, Gaye Flynt’s dog was attacked by five neighborhood dogs. The small 9-month-old puppy Jessie did not survive the injuries inflicted by the bigger dogs.
Flynt said her puppy did run into her neighbor’s property, wanting to play with the bigger dogs. The five dogs were behind an electric fence, which generally keeps dogs in their yard when working properly; however, other dogs and children can easily wander into the yard.
That is what Flynt says is her biggest concern.
“I have to live with the fact that I did not have my puppy on a leash and allowed it to run into their yard,” she said. “But my puppy can’t read ‘Beware of Dog’ signs. Neither can a child.”
Flynt likened the need to keep dangerous dogs behind an actual physical fence to swimming pools.
“People are required to put a fence around their pool because children and dogs do wander away at times,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time before a child wanders onto that yard.”
Walkington, on behalf of her friend Flynt, contacted Aldermen Janice Antonow and helped devise the wording for the proposed ordinance amendment.
“I know there are other dogs in the city of Oxford that aren’t being contained,” Walkington said. “It’s not just a problem in our neighborhood. I just had to do something, I didn’t want it to be a child next. According to Oxford Police reports, I know there are more problems in Oxford.”
The ordinance does not specify any particular breed of dog.
“The ordinance does not discriminate against particular breeds of canines because any dog that causes detrimental harm to a human or another animal could be regarded as vicious or dangerous,” Walkington said. “You also don’t always know what breed a dog may be with so many mixed breeds.”
Lafayette County has had a vicious dog ordinance in effect since 2013.
“The county has an ordinance and the city doesn’t? I thought that was a bit backward,” Walkington said. “The city needs to get up to speed … It all goes back to protecting the children, protecting adults who are walking around too but it’s so sad when a child or any person gets bit.”