The LaFayette City Council recently voted to amend the city's animal control ordinance after complaints that loose dogs were chasing residents.
The changes were minor, but council members and city officials said they should clear up any confusion residents may have about how "vicious" dogs should be handled. According to the city, a vicious animal includes any chow, rotweiler or pit bull terrier. It also includes any animal which bites, attacks or attempts to attack any person within the city.
City Manager David Hamilton said the city decided to make the changes to the ordinance after citizen complaints about unleashed dogs, specifically pit bulls, chasing after runners and children. Council members unanimously approved the changes at the Feb. 12 council meeting.
"These were small changes to an ordinance that has been in place and enforced for several years," Hamilton said.
The original ordinance stated an owner or keeper of a vicious animal who "permits or maintains" the animal at any time outdoors should keep the animal in a proper enclosure.
In place of the vague "permits and maintains" designation, the new ordinance reads: "An owner or keeper of a vicious animal must keep the animal inside his or her residence at all times unless the animal is directly placed and kept within a proper enclosure."
"This was meant to make the meaning of the original ordinance more clear, and did not substantively change the ordinance, just clarified the intent," Hamilton said.
The ordinance also updated language stating that animal control officers and law enforcement officers "shall" immediately impound any "vicious" animal that is not maintained. Before, the ordinance stated they "may" impound.
Council members said they had received concerns from residents that this was a new ordinance that created more restrictions, which is not the case.
"It's not a new dog ordinance," Councilman Ben Bradford said at the Feb. 12 meeting. "We changed one word."
City Attorney Ronald Womack said there has never been any provision in the city to let any dog run loose — every dog, regardless of whether it is considered "vicious" or not, should have a leash and collar, he said.
"Hopefully, it's crystal-clear," said Womack.
Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield recently held a meeting for residents to provide input on how the county's animal ordinance could be updated. Joe Legge, public relations director for the county, said no changes have been made to the ordinance yet, and the commissioner will likely have another public input session in the coming months.
About 85 people attended the meeting in January, voicing opinions on how the county could change the ordinance for the better, from requiring licensing for certain breeds to just more aggressively enforcing the current county ordinance.
Legge said the county would have to advertise any changes and hold a public hearing before they're brought up at a commissioner's meeting for approval. That process could take a couple of months, he said.
To view LaFayette's updated animal control ordinance, visit cityoflafayettega.org.
Email Allison Shirk at firstname.lastname@example.org.