Wicomico Tackles Quick Fixes With Dog Laws, Vows More Ahead

SALISBURY – The Wicomico County Council made its way through a list of issues regarding the county’s dog ordinance this week, including a few quick fixes and vowing there is more to come in the near future.

During a work session Tuesday, Assistant County Attorney Maureen Lanigan presented the County Council with a list of issues involved with the county’s dog ordinance and looked to clarify the law.

“Most of the issues have been with things that come up in front of the Animal Appeals Board, they are trying to decide on cases and law is just not that clear,” Lanigan said.

The Animal Appeal Board hears appeal cases, such as when a dog is deemed dangerous. According to the current law, if an animal displays behavior that qualifies as a potentially dangerous dog, the officer shall deem the dog potentially dangerous and notify the owner.

Upon receipt of notification that the owner’s dog is potentially dangerous, the owner shall immediately confine the dog in an enclosure and be securely restrained.

No dog may be declared potentially dangerous if the threat, injury or damage was sustained by a person who at the time was committing a willful trespass, was tormenting, abusing or assaulting the animal, or was committing or attempting to commit a crime. Also, no dog can be considered potentially dangerous if the injury or damage sustained by another domestic animal occurred while on the premises occupied by the owner of the animal.

If a dog is deemed dangerous, then the animal control officer is authorized to impound the dog. If an animal displays behavior which qualifies as a dangerous dog, the officer shall deem the dog dangerous, pending euthanization and notify the owner.  

Some of the open-ended questions discussed at this week’s County Council meeting were the definition of “enclosure”, definition of “securely restrained”, the need for additional conditions or disposition for dangerous dogs besides euthanization as well as conditions for potentially dangerous dogs where there currently is none.

 Lt. Todd Richardson, who sits on the Animal Appeal Board, explained that the board hears many cases where a dog is severely punished by solitary confinement or euthanization because the code provides no flexibility.

He explained that there have been cases where the dog’s chain breaks and goes into the neighbor’s yard and kills a cat. He said then the dog is deemed dangerous and ordered to be euthanized.

“Unless the board overturns it and keeps it dangerous than we have to order it to be securely confined, which means basically solitary confinement or in the house 24/7. It’s life as a dog is over because the chain broke,” he said.

Richardson added that if the chain breaks and the dog runs into the neighbor’s yard to play with kids and a child gets nipped than the dog is deemed dangerous and is ordered to be euthanized.

“Now we have to euthanize a golden retriever that has never done anything,” he said. “That is some of the heartaches that we run into as a board because there are so many variables.”

Some items received simple language fixes, such as the definition of “provocation”. Lanigan explained that the board felt the law did not include all items that could lead to the dog acting out.

“The situation has come up a lot where a dog is just not ‘hit, kicked, or taunted’,” Lanigan explained. “There are situations where kids are running with the dog, or they are rough housing with the dog.”

Lanigan suggested adding, “to include but limited to” and the council agreed.

The council also discussed the ordinance regarding animal care. Animal control had received a few calls over the past winter concerning dogs being left out in cold weather and the board is looking to add such a policy to the law.

Council President Joe Holloway brought up another case that has been called in several times concerning a dog being left outside without water. The law currently states, “There must be drinkable water in adequate supply.”

Lanigan said the board has reviewed the clause and has found it a difficult matter for animal control to force. She suggested adding “having water at all times.”

“I think that is the way it ought to be,” Holloway said.

For most of the board’s concerns, the council asked Lanigan to conduct further research, such as review other municipal dog ordinances and come back to the council with further recommendations.