Valley considers change in animal control ordinance

Published 6:35 pm Thursday, October 18, 2018

VALLEY — At a Tuesday evening work session, the Valley City Council had an extensive discussion on whether to amend the city’s animal control ordinance to ban ownership of certain breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls, in the city.

“Some people have asked us to ban them,” Mayor Leonard Riley said, adding that there’s a new law in Alabama in regard to dangerous dogs.

Known as Emily’s Law, the new legislation provides new punishments for dog owners whose dogs attack people. The bill is named for 24-year-old Emily Colvin, who died in Dec. 2017 after being attacked by a pack of dogs in the front yard of her Jackson County home. Under the legislation, if the dog kills a person, the owner can be found guilty of a class B felony. The legislation also provides a procedure to determine if the dog is dangerous. The bill also allows the court to order a dog to be put to death.

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If a dangerous dog is given back to its owner, the owner must have a lock on the animal’s enclosure and a concrete floor to prevent it from escaping.

The city’s animal control officer, Melissa Applebee, was present to offer insight. She said that a number of states had passed legislation similar to what Alabama has passed this year, but that these laws haven’t worked very well. “

Pit bulls are not a bad breed,” she said, adding that having them trained to fight is the problem. In many cases, she said, a pit bull’s handler is in the pit with them, urging them to fight another dog.

Valley’s problem, said Applebee, is backyard breeding for the purpose of making money.

“I don’t think that banning the breed would work,” she said. “This is a matter of punishing good dogs for what bad dogs have been trained to do.”

Riley asked her how often she gets calls about pit bulls. Applebee said that it does happen, but that in many cases the dog being reported isn’t a pit bull. “Pit bulls aren’t the only dogs with big, blocky heads. Labs and boxers are sometimes confused for them,” she said. “I’ve been an animal control officer for 13 years. In that time, there have been only three pit bulls that gave me a problem. I have more trouble with other breeds.”

Riley said that citizens need to be assured that if pit bulls are out loose they will be caught.

“It’s not okay for them to be out,” Applebee said. “Things can go bad in a minute if they are. The problem is that so many of these dogs are bred to make money, not for their temperament. The problem is how they are raised. If they are raised gentle, they will be gentle. Owner irresponsibility is the problem.”

Applebee said she thought the city should stay away from a pit bull ban for now.

“If anyone sees a pit bull out and not on a leash should they contact you?” Riley asked.

Applebee said they should and that she’d do her best to take care of it.

Police Chief Tommy Weldon said that the city’s present animal control ordinance has language in it designed to control aggressive dogs.

“If a dog is charging people, growling at them or frightening them, the owner is sent a letter telling them they have to remove their dog from the city. Some dog owners will do whatever it takes to fix the problem and keep their animal secured.”

Weldon said he’d been bitten three times by a dog in his law enforcement career, and each time it was by a chihuahua, a comment that caused a few chuckles. Applebee said she’d been bitten six times, only once by a pit bull mix.

Dogs getting out, she said, is the responsibility of the owner. “I’ve seen people with dogs in fenced-in yards, letting them go though their house and outside because they didn’t want poop in their yard.”

Riley said that he was content to leave the ordinance the way it is for now. “We’re not looking at any changes,” he said.

That could change with certain circumstances.