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Pixabay photo / The town of Signal Mountain is updating and clarifying its ordinance pertaining to vicious dogs.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the age of Deborah Poss' puppy as 13 months. The puppy was 13 weeks old.

The Signal Mountain Town Council is reviewing the town's ordinance pertaining to vicious dogs, with a goal of clarifying the process of how situations involving vicious dogs are handled. Councilors will receive a copy of the new ordinance to consider prior to their Nov. 25 meeting, when they will likely take their first vote.

Another purpose of reviewing the ordinance is to clarify the difference between a nuisance animal and a vicious one. The definition of a vicious dog is not breed-specific, but based off of documented incidents.

The review was prompted by an instance in which Brady Point Road resident Deborah Poss was walking her 13-week-old puppy on a leash when a free-roaming dog attacked and killed the puppy. 

She discovered from the Humane Educational Society that the dog had been reported in the past for vicious behavior.

Town Manager Boyd Veal said residents can report situations involving vicious dogs to HES or the Signal Mountain Police Department, both of which keep records of those reports and share them each other.

Likely because of HES transitioning to new management at the time of the recent incident, previous reports involving this particular dog had not been shared with the town, said Veal.

Public nuisance animal

Any dog, cat or other domestic animal that on at least one occasion commits any of the following acts of nuisance in the town:

* Is found at large

* Damages the property of anyone other than its owner

* Molests or intimidates pedestrians or passersby

* Chases vehicles

* Excessively makes disturbing noises

* Causes fouling of the air by odor, thereby creating unreasonable annoyance or discomfort to neighbors or others in close proximity to the premise where the animal is kept or harbored

* Causes unsanitary conditions in enclosures or surroundings where the animal is kept or harbored

* Attacks other domestic animals

Vicious dog

* Any dog that has [previously] attacked a human being or domestic animal one or more times without provocation

* Any dog that is reported and confirmed by an investigating authority to have a history, tendency or disposition to attack, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals

* Any dog that snaps, bites or manifests a disposition to snap or bite

* Any dog that has been trained for dog fighting, animal fighting or animal baiting, or is owned or kept for such purposes

* Any dog trained to attack human beings upon command or spontaneously in response to human activities. Dogs owned by and under the control of the police department, a law enforcement agency of the state of Tennessee or the United States, or a branch of the armed forces of the United States are an exception.

Source: Signal Mountain ordinances 10-204,10-211

In the case of a domestic animal attacking another, one offense would classify the attacker as a nuisance animal. If there is at least one previous attack, the attacker would be classified as a vicious animal.

Instead of dog owners being cited to court, as is typically the case with dogs deemed a nuisance, the process of dealing with vicious dogs is administrative, said Veal. Town officials investigate and issue a notice to the owners that the vicious dog must be licensed and kept in a confined indoor or outdoor space. The notice also informs owners that they must purchase liability insurance and post signage at their residence informing the public of the vicious dog on the property.

The current amount of liability insurance required is $100,000, although the council is considering raising that amount.

Veal said reports of vicious dogs are rare in the town, and this case is the only one that has been reported in the past year that he is aware of. Signal Mountain's leash law is consistent with the state's, and prohibits dogs from running astray without a leash or other physical confinement.

In cases involving vicious dogs, the town would only cite the owner to court if a law is broken. If the owner of a dog that was injured by a vicious dog wants to be reimbursed for vet costs related to an attack, they would need to pursue the case in civil court if unable to reach an agreement with the other owner.

Email Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com.

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