No More Dog Eat Dog

No More Dog Eat Dog

County adopts new rules governing dogs with history of biting.

Dangerous dogs left their mark on Ann Gallus. In addition to her dogs Polly, an Australian shepherd, and Pogo, a Jack Russell terrier, canine visitors aren’t rare at Gallus’ Catoctin district home. “I’m out in the country,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for dogs to visit.”

But two years ago, Gallus said, “a dog came and killed my cat. The vet did an autopsy, and it was pretty clear he had been mauled by a dog.”

Gallus brought that experience to the Board of Supervisors’ Animal Advisory Committee, which produced the revised “dangerous dogs ordinance.” Board members passed the ordinance at their meeting Monday, on a 7-1-1 vote, with Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voting against the motion and Supervisor William Bogard (I-Sugarland Run) absent.

The revised ordinance, made necessary by a change in state law, means that dogs can be deemed dangerous if they attack and injure other dogs, or people. Once a dog has been judged to be dangerous by the courts, the owner must register the animal as “dangerous” with the county’s Animal Control, and may have to carry $100,000 in insurance against attacks on other dogs, or people. The dog must also wear an orange collar with a “dangerous dog” tag.

The revised ordinance puts responsibility where it belongs, Gallus said: on dog owners. “Any time someone decides to own a dog, they need to take responsibility to learn to control it,” she said. “If they don’t want that responsibility, they should not be a dog owner to begin with.”

In the past, the county’s animals ordinance would only deem a dog dangerous if it killed another animal, or injured a person. But there has been a recent increase in dogs attacking other dogs, said Jeanette Reever, field supervisor for Animal Control. Dogs have run wild for years, she said, and people may have turned a blind eye to some dog attacks. But “this is not a rural community anymore,” she said, and as more and more people move to Loudoun, they bring more and more dogs.

DOG OWNERS WORRIED about the effects of the revised ordinance. “My gut feeling is, the problem is from dogs running at large,” Gail Miller told supervisors during the public comment period. “If a dog is on a leash, you’ve taken away their ability to run away from threats.”

At a Sept. 2 public hearing on the ordinance, Miller and three others made the same case. A leashed dog could end up attacking another, Miller said, and thereby be deemed dangerous when he was simply defending himself. The rules, she said, were well-intended but misguided.

Delgaudio agreed with Miller — the revised ordinance was bad business. “These are required by state changes. But the public is unanimously opposed,” he said. “Sometimes Richmond can be wrong — I know that’s a shock, coming from me.”

Other supervisors did show hesitation before approving the rules. But Supervisor Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) made the case for the ordinance. “This is probably not the best crafting of a solution,” he said. “But it’s either take it or leave it. If we leave it, there’s no ordinance at all.”

That was an unacceptable alternative, he said, because it left responsible dog owners in the lurch. Earlier this year, he said, two of his friends had let their two young children take the family schnauzer into the back yard, where the smaller dog was attacked by two pit bulls running loose.

“They mauled the schnauzer while the children beat them off,” he said. The family took their dog to the veterinarian, incurring $2,000 fees. “The dog later died,” Hiatt said.

The new ordinance means dangerous dog owners would have to carry insurance against such incidents, and that was one of the strongest arguments in favor, he said. “The family couldn’t recover from the financial loss, let alone the emotional one.”