Home News Local News Public hearing on animal ordinance moves forward

Public hearing on animal ordinance moves forward

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Mike Mathews, public safety director, explains to the Roswell City Council Legal Committee that a dog is determined vicious if the dog bites other animals or humans without provocation. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The Roswell City Council’s Legal Committee voted to recommend the notice of a public hearing for an amendment to the vicious animal ordinance.

Councilor Savino Sanchez made the motion and Councilor Barry Foster seconded. The final vote was 3-1, with Councilors Judy Stubbs, Foster and George Peterson voting in approval and Sanchez casting the dissenting vote. The item will go before the full city council this month.

City Attorney Holloman said Municipal Judge Eric Brackeen was concerned it was not explicit in the ordinance that the municipal court judge has the power to order a dog to be humanely destroyed if the case requires such action. Holloman said it is illegal to own a vicious animal and, if a vicious animal is collected by Roswell Animal Services (Animal Control), returning the animal back to the owner would also be illegal.

Holloman explained that there is a separate state statute under which Roswell Animal Services has the ability to petition the court for a finding that an animal is a vicious animal — and the court has the power to order the destruction of the animal, if the clear and convincing evidence is found.

At this time, Holloman said a municipal judge may order the destruction of an animal under existing state statute. He said the judge thinks the language should be directly incorporated into the local ordinance.

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As a personal anecdote, Holloman said he “hates” cases where his office helps Roswell Animal Services with potentially vicious animals. Holloman shared that he worked one case recently in which a pit bull bit a child twice. Without going into detail, Holloman said he felt it was not the dog’s fault, but rather the result of an inadequate owner.

Holloman said he called pit bull-specific rescue groups to see if they would rescue the pit bull if the court ordered a donation from the owner. In response, he said the rescue groups would not take a dog that bit anyone.

In some cases, Holloman said people can own a vicious dog if jurisdiction allows for it, and with specialized licensure if the dog is microchipped, securely enclosed and under control at all times. He used guard dogs and junkyard dogs as examples for the committee.

Mike Mathews, the city’s director of public safety, said a dog is considered vicious if said dog bites a human or animal unprovoked. He explained that vicious dogs can only be released from Roswell Animal Services by the order of the judge.

Holloman said there is a provision to destroy such a dog if evidence proves the dog is an imminent danger or caused serious injury. Holloman also clarified that the municipal court does have the power to release them — however, animal control officers cannot release those animals back to owners.

Mathews said sometimes the animals are held and maintained at Animal Control until a specific court date and a decision is made.

Sanchez asked if the owner is cited and Holloman said it is usually a $500 fine and 90 days in jail, a limit for all of the municipal ordinance violations. In response, Sanchez suggested removing the $500 fine and keeping only the 90 days in jail for vicious dog owners.

“You think about it,” Sanchez said. “If you’re going to jail for 90 days because you can’t handle your dog, then that’s on you. It’s not the dog’s fault.”

Stubbs asked if the language should say animal, instead of specifying a vicious dog, because people do have different animals. Holloman said the state statute is under the Dangerous Dog Act and said he would need to review if it is authorized to change the language to animal.

Holloman agreed the specification of dog is appropriate.

“Is it a vicious tiger that attacks you?” Foster laughed. “It’s just his nature, but he’s not vicious — it is just he is a tiger.”

“You could say the same thing about a pit bull too,” Stubbs replied to Foster. “It could be the excuse.”

For the ordinance itself, Foster said he would like to add something about rehabilitation for the dog at its owner’s expense, without returning a dog, and liked that the amendment spelled out potential actions for the judge.

According to the Roswell Animal Services Facebook page, October is pit bull awareness month and fees for pit bull adoptions will be waived for pit bull and pit bull mixes as long as the dogs will be spayed or neutered before owners take them home. Cecilia Najera, Roswell Animal Services secretary, informed the Daily Record that 21 pit bulls are at the shelter currently. For more information, citizens can visit the Roswell Animal Services Facebook page or call 575-624-6722.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.