Consideration is being given to strengthening city code against roaming dogs.
McMinnville Animal Control director David Denton requested the city’s ordinance be amended with two changes -- one that would remove a defense for owners whose dogs are found roaming and one that would institute a financial penalty in such cases.
Denton says some residents have latched onto the word “knowingly” in the city’s current ordinance against dogs roaming at large and are using it to circumvent that rule.
“When we come to people telling them that there’s a problem with their dog running loose, they say ‘I didn’t know it was out’ even though they let it out and they go back in to watch TV while their dog is terrorizing the neighborhood,” said Denton.
The request was made before members of the city Streets and Sanitation Committee.
Alderman Mike Neal asked how often that scenario plays out.
“It happens quite often,” said Denton. “We have a lot of people, like I said, will release their dog and go back in to watch TV. We had one two weeks ago right down below the police station. The dog was two blocks away. The lady told me ‘we didn’t know it was out’ but the neighbor across the street told the police officer who responded he saw her let the dog out and go back in.”
Additionally, Denton says officers don’t like writing citations for an animal roaming at large due to past instances where the defendant says ‘I didn’t know my dog was out’ and the judge dismissing the case based on the city’s ordinance stating the person must know the dog is running loose.
“If we could remove the word ‘knowingly’ then it wouldn’t matter if they knew it or not. They’re responsible,” said Denton.
He requested the following:
“It shall be unlawful for an owner to allow a dog to roam at large, or goes uncontrolled by leash by the owner upon a highway, public road, street or any other place open to the public generally. The animal control officer is empowered to confiscate and impound any dog found to be at large in accordance with chapter five of this title.”
Also requested was amending the ordinance to include a fine up to $50 for each violation, with each day’s violation being a separate offense. The fine can be levied at the judge’s discretion.
“Too many people refuse to take responsibility for their pets,” said city attorney Tim Pirtle. “The last case that David had come to me about taking to court, a pit bull mix came out of its yard and attacked an elderly pedestrian who, fortunately, was carrying a large staff with him. He was able to fight the dog off. He sustained some pretty serious bite wounds that could have been much worse.”
The dog’s owner, said Pirtle, used the defense of not knowing the dog was out, but neighbors attested to the fact the dog was regularly out and a menace.
“The judge needs the discretion to give offenders like that a $50 a day serial fine,” said Pirtle. “We litigated with those folks through two courts over probably 90 days. That was over one incident.”
Denton added that the victim was 77 years old and walking in preparation for a medical procedure, a surgery that was delayed by the injuries sustained in the dog attack.
Streets and Sanitation Committee members approved the changes. However, full Board of Mayor and Aldermen approval is required.