FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) -- The Washington County Quorum Court voted Thursday (April 21) to approve changes to the county's vicious animal ordinance after two cyclists were attacked by a dog in late February.
The ordinances reclassifies animals from vicious to hazardous, potentially dangerous and dangerous and addresses regulating animals that chase or approach people while off their owners' properties. It also addresses animals that bite people or other domestic animals without provocation on both public and private properties.
"Sadly there have been many accidents in the past and Richard's incident was the tipping point as far as both public support and the quorum court," said Paxton Roberts, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks.
The ordinance also defines what classifies as a serious injury from an animal attack and outlines owners' responsibilities following the attack.
A law enforcement officer will have the authority to declare that an animal is "hazardous" based on a written statement from a person willing to testify the animal acted in a hazardous manner, actions of the animal witnessed by the officer and other evidence. The owner of that animal will then have to find a way to confine the animal to their property and microchip it at their expense. If the owner fails to comply with those provisions the animal will be classified as "potentially dangerous."
"Washington county doesn't have a leash law out in the unincorporated parts of the county," said Eva Madison, Justice of the Peace. "That comes as a surprise to some people, but dogs roam freely and there are problems with that -- some people's dogs are good, and some are not."
A law enforcement officer will also have the authority to declare an animal is "potentially dangerous." Owners of potentially dangerous animals will be required to keep the animal indoors or in a secure pen while its on private property. If the animal is taken out in public it will have to be muzzled and leashed and in control of a person 18 years of age or older. The owner will also have to microchip and neuter or spay the animal at their expense. A county judge or sheriff may also require the animal's owner to attend and pay for an obedience class.
The owner of a potentially dangerous animal will also have to notify law enforcement if the animal is loose, bites or attacks a person, has been moved to a different address or dies. The animal also cannot be sold or given away. If the owner doesn't follow those provisions the ownership of the animal will have to forfeited to the county.
"I believe it will help keep the vicious dogs out away from people and those who cycle," said James Newell, who lives in Washington County. "We have a lot of bikers come through in here. In fact, this race this weekend they'll come through here."
The final classification outlined by the Quorum Court is a "dangerous" animal, which will be established by a law enforcement officer. The owner of a dangerous animal will have to give the county judge or sheriff proof of liability insurance in the amount of at least $50,000. The animal will also have to be kept indoors or in a secure pen and will not be allowed on public property unless the owner is taking it to a veterinarian.
A district or circuit court can also determine the animal needs to be euthanized in a humane manner. If the owner doesn't comply with those provisions, the animal will have to be forfeited to the county.
If a hazardous, potentially dangerous or dangerous animal has to be quarantined after it bites a person, the owner will be responsible for the cost of keeping it at a veterinarian's office, boarding facility or shelter.
In each case, the animal's owner will have 14 days to appeal a hazardous, potentially dangerous or dangerous classification.
To read the full ordinance, click here. The portions in red were stricken from the bill before it was passed.
The ordinance goes into effect immediately and all animals that have been classified as vicious prior to the changes retain that classification and all the restrictions that come with it.
The Quorum Court began considering these changes after two cyclists were attacked by a dog in a rural area of Washington County. One of the cyclists sustained serious wounds.