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Pet-friendly residents want assurances of safety

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

It's a safe assumption that most area citizens are, at a minimum, pet-friendly, if not pet-loving.

In addition, the area's SPCAs and other pet-caring groups and organizations have attained significant public appreciation and support for their efforts to help protect and manage local pet populations. The fact that pets are valued here speaks well of both residents and the Albemarle culture.

However, that connection is tested in the rare cases when pets act badly. It is what is driving current legislation in the state General Assembly: dangerous dogs injuring or killing other pets.

Some remedies are necessary, although local officials, who are attuned to residents’ traditional pet culture, see the legislation as unnecessary. As Pasquotank County Attorney Mike Cox put it: it’s a  "a solution in search of a problem." The county sees the issue as one that can be solved locally.

Nevertheless, the Legislature is close to passing a new law. The state House has already overwhelmingly passed, 105-8, House Bill 561, which takes a more aggressive view of dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs. The state Senate is considering the bill, which requires that any dog that kills or injures a person or domestic animal to be immediately impounded by the local government agency — city or county — that oversees animal control.

A primary motivation behind the proposal, according to its sponsors, is that current state law allows but does not require impounding dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs. The new legislation makes the dog owner responsible for the impounding costs, and redefines the specific criteria for "dangerous" and "potentially dangerous" dogs, which can be a significant factor in determining how those dogs are cared for and monitored.

These recommended changes in how state residents and local governments respond to dog behavior are being applauded in many areas, as they are intended to ensure better protection of people and pets from animals that pose a threat. That response isn't surprising, as North Carolina's population and residential areas have grown and changed. With more people living closer together in residential complexes in cities and rural subdivisions, there is a greater chance for pets to come in contact with each other. Furthermore, as communities stoke their pet-friendly images with dog parks, walking trails and healthy lifestyles that include pet ownership, there is also a higher potential for pet confrontations.

Those changes in community living, even in smaller, rural areas, affect people and pets, so some guidelines are justified to provide safe interactions. Not everyone agrees, however, with the recommended remedies. The Pasquotank County commissioners worry that the law would be an onerous and potentially costly imposition to local dog owners.

Cox, in explaining the county position, says local county dog ordinances already serve the public. He pointed out that Pasquotank currently impounds dangerous dogs. But there’s a key difference between HB 561 and local ordinances: The county’s policy offers more flexibility to work with pet owners; the new legislation would take away that flexibility, requiring dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs to be immediately seized and impounded and then confined in the owner's home or yard pen. That stipulation, Cox said, would result in some pet owners giving up their animals.

We think a case can be made for more local involvement in policing dangerous dogs. But, it's also become obvious that our communities are growing, and more people and pets live, work and play in the same areas. A dangerous dog problem is not conducive to good neighbors or a good image for any community.

Whatever accommodations can be made to local flexibility, state law or local ordinances must ensure pet owners are responsible for their pet's behavior. That includes responsibility for the damages they cause and the injuries they inflict on other pets and people — and that the harmful behavior is never repeated.

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