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County measure targets roaming dogs

Committee advances ordinance to update prohibitions on animals running loose by David Showers | March 24, 2021 at 3:56 a.m.

HOT SPRINGS -- Garland County justices of the peace advanced an ordinance Monday night prohibiting dogs from roaming in the unincorporated area of the county.

The dog section in the animals chapter of the county code allows dogs not classified as a high-risk breed and that have current tags issued by a licensed veterinarian practicing in Garland County to venture unrestrained off their owners' property.

The ordinance the Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee advanced will be considered by the full Quorum Court next month.

"As it stands right now, just having the tag basically is an exemption for the dog to go anywhere the dog wants to go," County Attorney John Howard told the committee. "If it's properly tagged, it can run anywhere in the county, and nobody can do anything about it. Dogs can pretty much go anywhere they want."

The ordinance added dogs actively assisting their owners or custodians in lawful hunting activities to the list of exemptions enshrined in the county code. Current exemptions include dogs entered in shows or competitions taking place on land designated for said purpose, dogs housed or fenced on private property and dogs used for official purposes by law enforcement agencies or people with disabilities.

The ordinance also decouples nuisance dogs from vicious dogs. The county code does not differentiate between the two, requiring owners of dogs that have been declared a nuisance to take the same precautions as owners of vicious dogs. They include paying a nonrefundable fee of $1,000 to the county or showing proof of insurance with $100,000 in liability coverage for the dog.

Hot Springs' Animal Services Department, which the county contracts to enforce its animal regulations, told the committee that small, nonthreatening dogs that have been declared a nuisance are treated the same as vicious dogs under the county's current regulations. Nuisance and or vicious dogs cannot go off of their owners' property without a muzzle and a restraint with a minimum tensile strength of 300 pounds and maximum length of 3 feet.

In addition to delineating nuisance dogs from vicious dogs, the ordinance also creates separate penalties for the two categories. Violating the vicious provision will continue to be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and jail time of up to one year.

Violating the nuisance provision would be a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and jail time up to 30 days.

"The dog who just scatters trash and barks too much is treated the same as the dog who attacks someone," Howard told the committee. "We're separating the vicious portion from the nuisance provision. This gives some flexibility to the enforcement office and the courts as well."

The ordinance provided a more detailed definition of a nuisance dog than what's enshrined in the code, classifying a nuisance dog as one who soils, defiles or defecates on private property other than the owner's or public walks and recreation areas, causes unsanitary, dangerous or offensive conditions, causes a disturbance by excessive barking or noise making, interferes with persons in the public right of way, chases vehicles or roams on private or public property.

"The language is loose enough for a court to have some flexibility there, but we have to have some definition for it to be enforceable," Howard told the committee.

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