Officials look at new vicious dog ordinance

PARKERSBURG – City officials are looking at implementing a vicious dog ordinance, but first want to make sure any such ordinance would be legally enforceable.

The topic came up at Tuesday’s city council meeting when a resident asked whether a proposed vicious dog ordinance had moved forward. Councilman John Rockhold said he had given information to the city attorney to see whether such an ordinance would be enforceable.

Discussion of an ordinance stems from an incident in 2012 when an elderly resident’s cat was mauled to death by two pit bulls which were roaming the neighborhood.

“That happened in my district.” Rockhold said Thursday. “I gathered up a lot of different information and I’ve passed it on to (city attorney) Joe Santer to see what we could do. The problem is we can write an ordinance but can we enforce one? To put something out there that we cannot enforce is not a good idea.”

Mayor Bob Newell said he was unsure whether the city should have a new ordinance, as an existing ordinance already deals with vicious dogs.

“The police can go out and cite the owners in municipal court, and they pay a fine,” he said.

The ordinance covers incidents of attacks, but not necessarily an animal wandering a neighborhood, Newell said.

Rockhold said he would like to see an ordinance go further, enforcing leash and fencing laws for dogs and holding owners responsible for animals running at-large.

“We know who owns them, but they are still out there running around,” he said. “The (state) law as it’s written right now, if it bites someone, there is still a three-strike rule.”

Newell said he believes it is the state and county’s responsibility to put tougher laws and penalties on the books.

“It should be a state law. I think there ought to be more teeth to it,” he said. “I think people who don’t keep vicious dogs under control ought to go to jail, but magistrate court can’t do that. It needs to be something under state law.”

Other communities have grappled with the issue in recent years.

In 2011, Vienna City Council modified its vicious dog code to remove any breed-specific references. Prior to the move, the code defined a vicious dog as any breed of pit bull terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier, as well as any dog with the propensity to attack human beings or other domestic animals.

Earlier this week in Mercer County, the city of Bluefield Board of Directors passed a first reading of an ordinance to ban pit bulls. The ordinance would give the owners of pit bulls 10 days after the ordinance is enacted to register their animals with the Bluefield Police Department and would prohibit any new pit bulls within the city after that time period has ended.

An existing ordinance approved in 2008 already requires Bluefield pit bull owners to muzzle their dogs when they are outside of a kennel.

Both Bluefield ordinances also would apply to wolf-hybrid dogs.

Newell said he believes signaling out specific breeds spells trouble for communities.

“I think there are some real issues as to who decides which dog is vicious,” he said. “I will certainly pay attention to what they are doing down there (in Bluefield) and how it works out.”