By Kaitlin Candelaria
Some dog owners in Homewood have felt the pressure as the city’s public safety committee deliberated how to address a rise in dog attacks recently.
The issue, brought before the committee at a July 20 meeting, was raised by animal control officer Robbie Bagby Hurst. Hurst reported that she had seen a rise in attacks in the city in the past six months, the most notable one taking place in early July in the West Homewood area. After two pit bulls attacked two women on their morning walk, one dog was shot by Homewood police and the other was retained in police custody. The dog’s owner was later arrested.
The thought of breed-specific legislation was not one that sat well with the Homewood community, especially those who own pit bulls and other so-called “bully breeds” as pets.
Representatives from organizations such as Bama Bully Rescue made their presence known at the Aug. 3 public safety committee meeting along with Homewood-based bully breed owners, who strongly discouraged the committee from creating ordinances that they viewed as unnecessarily prejudiced toward certain breeds of dog.
Homewood’s current ordinances don’t address any breeds, but they do include leash laws, the breaking of which are punishable by up to $50 in fines, as well as a tethering law that outlaws owners from tethering their animals inhumanely. There also is an ordinance banning vicious dogs, which includes any dog that is known to have bitten someone.
“The current ordinance says you cannot tether a dog inhumanely or tether a dog without a responsible adult at home while the dog is tethered,” said Ward 2 Place 1 representative, Fred Hawkins. “What we’ve discussed now is, what is the appropriate time frame? Because some people are at home all day and leave their dogs tethered all day.”
The tether ordinance currently in place for Homewood is unusual. Although Hoover, Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook all boast similar leash laws and ordinances banning vicious dogs, Homewood is the only city to address tethering.
At the end of the committee’s Aug. 17 meeting, the group unanimously passed a motion to limit tethering within the city to no more than one hour. The ordinance will now go before the City Council for approval.
The council is focusing its attention on the specifics of the tethering legislation because many organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, classify tethering as an inhumane practice that can lead to aggressiveness in dogs.
“Dogs are naturally social beings who thrive on interaction with human beings and other animals,” their website says. “A dog kept chained in one spot for hours, days, months or even years suffers immense psychological damage. An otherwise friendly and docile dog, when kept continuously chained, becomes neurotic, unhappy, anxious and often aggressive.”
Although other cities in the area don’t have similar ordinances, representatives agree that socialization is an important aspect of a healthy and happy dog.
“Make sure that you are a proactive dog owner,” Ashley Martin, animal control officer for Mountain Brook, said. “Make sure that your dog stays well socialized, current on vaccines, as well as provide them with adequate attention and healthcare.”
She says it’s very important to make sure your dog is getting the appropriate amount of attention and activity as dictated by their breed.
“Dogs can also develop aggressive tendencies when they are sick and don’t feel well,” Martin said. “Any time there is a bite, it’s good to do your homework and ask yourself if your dog is properly trained, if your dog’s temperament has recently changed, is there any new stimulus in the household such as a new baby or is your dog getting bored? All of these are good points to consider in the unfortunate event that your dog bites someone.”
Another way to prevent a dog bite or attack is to steer clear of dogs that are “at large” – or unattended and off a leash. Officer Brian Hale of the Hoover Police Department said that, if you ever see a dog within the city limits that isn’t on a leash, you should call animal control immediately.
“If you see something, say something,” Hale said. “If you see a dog at large, go ahead and call our animal patrol number. If the dog looks like it poses a threat, call 911 so our dispatchers can send both animal control and a patrol officer.”
Instead of focusing on tethering or breed-specific legislation, Hale said that Hoover focuses more on what owners and individuals can do to prevent an attack.
“Our animal control guys – Robert Davis and Danny Wade – are big on education to prevent this kind of stuff from happening,” he said. “They go into schools and do presentations and have a presence at community events.”
If you have a dog with aggressive tendencies, Hale encourages you to reevaluate bringing the dog out into public.
“If you do bring it in public, consider putting a muzzle on it,” he said. “If you’re on the other side of things, you can’t assume that a dog is trained or that it’s OK to approach it because it’s on a leash. You still always need to ask the owner if it’s okay to approach. Err on the side of caution.”
Martin said that any time a dog bites someone, it should be reported.
“Always do the right thing if your dog bites someone and report it,” she said. “This does not mean you will lose your dog. It means your case will be thoroughly looked at to see what prompted a bite and what possible solutions we could look at to prevent recurring bites.” ϖ