Aldermen adopt new animal control ordinance

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Over some board members’ concerns that penalties are too harsh,Brookhaven aldermen Tuesday approved a new animal control ordinancefor the city.

The nine-page law addresses a variety of animal-related issues,including prohibiting animals from running at large in the city.Animal protection portions of the law are intended to preventinhumane treatment and to prevent animals from being leftunattended in vehicles.

The new law also prohibits “ferocious, vicious and dangerous”animals, but does not ban any specific breeds. Brookhavenofficials, though, are leaving open that possibility pending courtrulings from other communities where the controversial breed banshave been pursued.

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Generating the most debate last night, however, were penaltyprovisions stipulating fines up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days injail. The minimum fine for the first offense is $125, $250 for thesecond offense and $500 for the third and subsequent offenses.

“We need to be careful when talking about putting somebody injail for 90 days because of their dog,” said Alderman at large LesBumgarner.

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell keyed on the monetary penalties,particularly the $125 minimum fine for a first offense.

“I feel like that’s too big a burden to put on the pet owners ofBrookhaven,” Maxwell said.

Police Chief Pap Henderson and others defended the stiffpenalty. Henderson said the burden of enforcing the law is onpolice officers and the animal control officer.

“What you’re wanting is a slap on the hand, but we’re the onesgoing through the problems,” the chief said.

Henderson indicated officers know how to handle situations inwhich dogs get away from their homes. He suggested those casescould often be addressed with an advisory request to the dog ownerand without need for a citation.

“It’s not about putting somebody in jail for 90 days. It’s notabout getting someone to pay a $1,000 fine,” the chief said.

City Attorney Joe Fernald, who advised an aldermen subcommitteewhen crafting the new ordinance, emphasized the fine and jail timeare both discretionary on the judge’s part. As with othermisdemeanor offenses, he said the jail time could be suspended withprobation as an incentive for the person to pay the fine.

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes and Ward Two Alderman TerryBates, two members of the subcommittee, said the question waswhether the city wanted a leash law. They said previous leash lawswere ineffective and not enforced.

“It wasn’t enough bite in it,” Bates said.

Bumgarner asked Henderson how the new law would be enforced.

“We’re going to have to buckle down and do the job,” Hendersonsaid.

Bumgarner remained concerned about the penalty portion of thelaw.

“I don’t want to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly,” the aldermansaid.

Maxwell then offered several amendments to the ordinances. Theamendments, which never came to an official vote during aconvoluted discussion, would have reduced to the first offense fineto as low as $25 and removed the jail time on all offenses but thethird and subsequent ones.

“It seems like you’re weakening the whole structure of thesefines,” said Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron, the third member ofthe subcommittee that drafted the proposal.

Cameron went on to express concerns about board members pickingapart and trying to change what the subcommittee had preparedduring its many meetings on the subject. He suggested the board wasnot expected to “rubber stamp” the subcommittee’s work, but he saidsubjects handled by other subcommittees were not treated the sameway as the animal ordinance.

“It’s frustrating,” Cameron said.

After another attempt by Maxwell to lower the minimum finesfailed for a lack of a second, the board voted on the animalcontrol ordinance as presented. It passed 5-1, with Maxwell opposedand Ward Three Alderwoman Mary Wilson not present for the boardmeeting.

Fernald said the ordinance will take effect in 30 days.