Before the sheriff here listened to the people and beefed up animal control ordinances, opened a pound and assigned officers specifically to dog issues, some of the most frequent emergency calls in this county concerned aggressive dogs frightening neighbors and sometimes whole neighborhoods.
These calls have dwindled, and we’ll assume the work of Sheriff Donnie Craig and officers in brown has been a factor. The City of Jasper has gone one step further with its voluntary pet registration program. All involved in this animal control program deserve applause.
A reminder of old free-range days came recently from reading the Georgia Times-Union Sunday paper. It reported that in Hawthorn, Georgia “a gentle-natured” 74-year-old man who liked to pick up trash and chat with neighbors had his arm literally torn off and his face severely disfigured by two neighborhood dogs, described as either pit-bulls or pit-bull mixes.
Both dogs were euthanized after the attack. Their victim, who already suffered from poor health, is now in critical condition and may not survive.
One of the most tragic facts about this story is that, according to the Gainesville Sun, police records show officers had contacted the dog owner twice before concerning his aggressive-acting animals, though the dogs had apparently never hurt anyone prior to their attack on the elderly gentleman.
While the local situation has been greatly improved, and dogs running loose are now subject to impoundment, officers still lack needed leverage over owners of dogs that appear aggressive but have not attacked yet. We’ve heard this from several people, including a small farm owner in west Pickens who lost two prize sheep to neighboring dogs that killed.
Even with the changes in Pickens County, it’s hard for officers to do much until a dog has bitten. By law, a dog acting aggressively, growling, even attacking another animal does not obligate its owner to improve fences, get rid of the animal, or to euthanize a dog with a nasty temper and big teeth.
But as the Hawthorn mauling shows, the idea of waiting until dogs have attacked doesn’t offer much protection.
It’s one thing to presume people innocent until proven guilty. It is bogus to borrow that Constitutional framework and apply it to a dog, extended no civil rights or freedoms in this country. Pets have no legal right to run loose and certainly not to terrorize or disturb neighbors––even if owners don’t believe their animals are truly dangerous.
Unfortunately the standard answer to someone who confesses fear of neighboring dogs is “shoot them yourself.” In Wyatt Earp’s era, that advice probably meant something. In 2011 it’s not very practical for a large number of reasons, including the level of marksmanship among subdivision dwellers and the possibility of escalating violence. Shooting a threatening dog may be legal. That doesn’t mean it won’t bring war to your neighborhood.
This is why it’s not a citizen’s responsibility to handle their own law enforcement. Advising someone to just shoot any dog that looks mean on their property is one step from telling them to Taser and handcuff anyone who walks across their lawn after dark––joggers and friendly dogs beware.
Ultimately, however, the responsibility for dogs rests with owners. No matter how much you love Fido, regardless of how he’s the sweetest little, 105-pound, pure-bred mastiff on the planet, if he makes neighbors and passersby nervous, you need to keep him properly restrained. If he’s “just being protective” when he growls, or if you take masculine pride in owning a fighter, you need to recognize that your dog poses a threat. It is the owner’s responsibility and duty to see that their pet does not end up putting someone in the hospital and the owner in court.
Under no circumstances is it acceptable to own a dog you know is aggressive and allow him to run loose.
We can guess the owner of the dogs who mauled the man in south Georgia now wishes he had thought more of his neighbors than of his dogs’ free-range enjoyment. If not, we bet he is going to be wishing that real soon.