Animals that attack people in Madison County can now be taken into government custody without a court order.
County commissioners unanimously amended the county’s animal control ordinance Nov. 2, giving local officials the authority to apprehend an animal that poses a public safety risk without first getting a judge’s approval.
The measure was deemed necessary after a 5-year-old boy was savagely attacked in his home in Hull last month by a dog that had gotten free from a neighbor’s chain. The dog was surrendered to the county the following day and euthanized. But since the animal was up to date on its vaccinations, there was nothing in the county ordinances that would have allowed animal control officers to take custody of the dog, despite the attack. If the owner refused to give up the dog, it could have remained on the owner’s property until a Superior Court judge issued an order to seize the animal, which could have taken days.
“Imagine that child going back home from the hospital and not knowing if the dog was loose or where it was at,” said commissioner Stanley Thomas.
Thomas and other commissioners said that the inability to seize a dog that has attacked a person was unacceptable. They noted that a person who attacks another person can be immediately arrested. Therefore, it makes no sense not to be able to immediately seize an animal that hurts someone.
Hoke Strickland was the lone citizen to address the BOC on the matter Monday. He stood at the podium and protested the action.
“I’m for protecting our children, but why do we need another law when we already got one?” asked Strickland.
BOC chairman Anthony Dove noted that the ability to seize an animal that has attacked a human does not eliminate due process rights for the animal or its owner. For instance, an animal, in some cases, may be provoked into an attack. The owner can present such evidence before a judge in an effort to get his dog back. But commissioners said it is imperative that the dog be adequately restrained while the legal process plays out. And in some cases, that means the county must take control of the animal.
“We do not want to circumvent that process; we just want that dog to be secured,” said Dove.
The chairman noted that the animal may not necessarily be apprehended by the county. Animal control director Jack Huff said that if animal control deems that the dog is kept in a properly maintained kennel, it could remain on the owner’s property under regular supervision from the department while legal proceedings take place.
Owners of animals that are seized by animal control are liable for a $25 confiscation fee and $10 per day boarding expense.