June 24, 2017
Politics & Opinion
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Vicious Animal Law

Derek Fink
Derek Fink's picture
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June 14, 2017

In mid-April, my office received an email about a vicious dog attack that occurred in the Chesterfield neighborhood. A dog had escaped from its owner’s home and went after a lady walking a dog on the sidewalk. This dog, according to witnesses, was completely unprovoked and had no reason to charge and attack the woman or the dog that was killed. I was horrified to hear about this attack and immediately tried to find out what Animal Control was going to do to make the people of this community feel safe again.

My office was flooded with calls and emails about the incident and about the fact that the dog was going to be returned to its owners. The dog was returned to its owners only after they had complied with the conditions that are mandated by Animal Control in instances like this. Animal Control, in this instance, did not have the authority to impound or destroy the attacking animal. I have worked with our county attorneys and Animal Control to come up with some commonsense changes to the law so that they have the option to impound or destroy an animal if it is deemed necessary.

Bill 59-17, which will be heard and voted on July 3, makes significant additions to the authority of Animal Control in cases where an animal attacks a human or a domesticated animal. The main goal of this bill is to allow Animal Control to designate an animal as dangerous or vicious and to be able to take appropriate action to prevent that animal being returned to its owner, whether the animal is impounded or destroyed. An animal will be designated as vicious if the animal kills or inflicts serious injury to a person or domesticated animal, but the vicious designation does not include an animal who bites or attacks as a response to pain or injury or while defending a human, itself or its litter. An animal will also not be deemed vicious if it attacks during a willful trespass on the premises of the owner. The animal will basically be considered vicious only if it attacks and causes harm without being provoked.

The bill also establishes a dangerous-animal registry in the county. To have more transparency in county government and to allow county residents to feel safe in their own homes, this bill, if passed, instructs Animal Control to establish and maintain a dangerous-animal registry for the county to include all animals determined to be dangerous or (according to the old law) potentially dangerous. The animal registry will include the following information about the animal if available: name, sex, age, weight, primary and secondary breed, color/markings, whether the animal is spayed or neutered, address where the animal is maintained, name of owner and the address of the owner. This registry will be made available to the public through the county website.

While I would prefer not to have to pass laws that give the government the ability to destroy an animal, I understand the need for Animal Control to have the authority to do so in certain circumstances. When an animal is unprovoked and attacks a human or another animal, Animal Control must have the authority to do what is necessary to keep the community safe. I believe that these are some commonsense changes to our animal control laws that make Anne Arundel County a safe place to live and raise children.

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