Animal Control Urges Owners To Be More Responsible With Pets
Reporter / Bristol Herald Courier
Published: July 7, 2008
The black-and-tan hound with an orange collar slouched in the mobile home’s shadow. He looked up from his cozy hiding spot and cast a scrunchy-eyed glance of curiosity as Sgt. Jason Alexander approached.
It was a dog at large, source of the “No. 1 call” for Washington County (Va.) Animal Control. Alexander and his crew would prefer to focus their attention on horses roaming local roads or even goats stuck in a wire fence. Instead, their energy goes to what experts agree is a preventable problem.
The county, as well as others, has no leash law, so dog owners have no reason to contain or restrain them. But their neighbors have reason to call animal control when loose dogs wander into their neighborhoods or onto their property and become a nuisance.
Alexander has honed his ability to read a canine’s body language over the years by fielding so many calls. This one, a complaint about a “friendly” stray roaming Brumley Gap, was just another test.
The drool oozing from the dog’s chops could have signaled rabies. Alexander’s instincts told him different. It was a hunting dog, the animal control officer surmised, and he lived to chase small animals for an owner.
Instead of rabies, the hound more likely was infected with giddy anticipation that the cat living inside the mobile home soon would prance out the front door.
Alexander, standing 5 feet away with leash ready, held out a hand and offered soothing words. The hound rose to his paws and stared at the stranger as if sizing him up. Then came the wagging tail and a short gallop to Alexander’s side.
Not all reports of a loose dog are so easy to handle. Not for the dogcatcher and definitely not for the people who first spot the animal.
“There are more bites this time of year. ... I don’t know whether you just have more people out in the summer or what,” said Wise County, Va., Animal Control Officer Becky Phillips.
Big dogs, small dogs, or short and plumpish Bassett howlers, it doesn’t matter. Alexander has corralled all types into the doggie prison in the back of his pickup.
He’s never suffered a serious bite. Still, he’s not too crazy about the growlers and the nippers. Those pint-sized Chihuahuas aren’t to be underestimated, either.
“They can be fast and furious adversaries, I’ll tell you that,” Alexander said with a laugh.
Owners believe old Rover needs some exercise and then lets him loose, Alexander said.
Before they know it, the dog has wandered onto someone else’s property.
“Dogs don’t see the ‘no trespassing’ signs,” Phillips said.
No matter what the size or the breed, experts say that all dogs have one thing in common when alone and away from familiar territory – a fighter’s thirst for survival.
The most playful pooch can become aggressive in someone else’s yard, especially if it chooses the fight instinct over flight, experts say.
All dogs will tear into flesh, said dog-bite lawyer Kenneth M. Phillips.
“Most dog bites are a surprise for the victim,” he said. “On cross examining the owners, I’ve found that it shouldn’t have been a surprise because the dog owner has received some tipoff.”
A sore spot behind the ear that hurts when petted, rowdiness around other dogs, or even a sense of uneasiness while away from home are among the red flags.
Explosive behavior comes even with the owner near. Such was the case weeks ago when police report that an unleashed German shepherd standing near its owner lunged at a bicyclist in Abingdon, Va. The bicyclist, while attempting to kick away the dog, plunged face first to the pavement. His head injuries required hospitalization.
Since the mishap, bicyclists have complained en masse that unleashed and roaming dogs are the most daunting threat to their hobby.
Washington County, like most rural areas, lacks a leash law. Dogs are required to be under the control of their owners, however. The wording of such ordinances can be left to an interpretation of events. For example, police charged the owner of the German shepherd with having a loose dog.
The black-and-tan hound that befriended Alexander had roamed Brumley Gap Road for three days, said neighborhood resident Carol Matney.
“I didn’t try to get ahold of him because he’s not my dog,” she told Alexander. The dog seemed friendly enough, except to the neighbor’s cat. Matney put out food for him. But that was the extent of her contact.
She called animal control hoping officers could reunite the dog with its owner.
Some chases require return trips and even backup help. With the hound, Alexander needed only two minutes to circle around a nearby church and stop at the mobile home on the other side.
The dog acquiesced to being picked up and slid into the pickup’s doggie prison. Once inside, his tail thumped against the side of the aluminum cell.
A missing hunting dog like this one should net a call to the animal shelter from a worried owner inside a week, Alexander said.
By then, he likely will have fielded more than a dozen more similar calls.
“If people would be more responsible for [their dogs’] actions, it would really help out,” he said.
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