Stray-dog laws were stricter in 1950s than they are today
Published: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 3:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 3:20 p.m.
What to do about stray dogs was a big enough local issue in the mid-1950s to have the Terrebonne Press address it editorially.
This faded cartoon from the April 24, 1956, issue of the Terrebonne Press declared, “The dog question in one word! Terrible!” An accompanying editorial called for changes.
Unlike the current system of impounding strays and charging owners who neglect their animals or violate leash laws, the 1950s practice described in the editorial reprinted here was brutal, and final.
Under the heading “The Dog Question Again,” editors reprinted an editorial from two years earlier. The 1956 printing is transcribed verbatim here:
“(Note: If what follows seems familiar, it is because it is reprinted from our editorial page of February 2, 1954. Conditions have not changed appreciably in the city and the parish and both have almost identical stray dog ordinances.)
“Someone at the sheriff’s office answers the telephone and hears a voice at the other end complain, ‘There’s a stray dog around here; come do something about it.’
“A deputy arrives. the complainant motions with his finger and says, ‘Over there.’ The deputy aims his .22.
“Justice has been rendered. Law and order have been established. The sheriff’s office has done its duty faithfully.
“A little boy a few doors away starts sobbing that his dog had just accidentally broken out of his back yard for the first time in over a year. He blames the sheriff’s office. He blames the neighbors. He blames the whole world for brutality and cruelty.
“What he really should blame is an unrealistic parish ordinance which rules that ‘any untagged dog found running at large on the streets and roads of the Parish of Terrebonne, or running at large on any private or public property within the Parish of Terrebonne, shall be presumed to be suffering from rabies and shall be destroyed by any law enforcement officer in the Parish of Terrebonne.’
“The same ordinance also reads that it shall be unlawful for any owner to allow his dog on the public streets and roads of the Parish of Terrebonne unless said dog is accompanied by a person, unless it has been vaccinated and registered as provided herein and unless said dog is provided with a muzzle or mask to protect the public against said dog biting anyone.
“No doubt the police jury had the welfare of the public at heart when it passed the resolution. But in actual operation, the resolution is too harsh in one respect and too lenient in another.
“A prize hunting dog may break out one day and the sheriff’s deputies will be called in by a neighbor to ‘come do something about it.’
“The sheriff and his deputies report having shot many prize hunting dogs and pets because they were roaming at will and someone complained. Just about all of them are dog lovers and dislike the business of whipping out a gun and pulling the trigger on a dog that is quite innocent, except that parish laws define unaccompanied or unmuzzled dogs as ‘suffering from rabies.’
“Today, this is the way the law operates. Dogs roam the parish freely, tagged or untagged. No one is responsible for searching them out and picking them up. Only when a complaint is received is anything done. And when a complaint is received, the dog is destroyed on the spot — no questions asked.
“The sheriff’s office is not charged with the responsibility of finding the owner or of equipping itself with nets and dog catching paraphernalia. Not only that, the nature of the sheriff’s office is not such that it should be reduced to concentrating its efforts on illegal dogs.
“Dogs that roam the parish unchaperoned often do so in packs, especially in most of the subdivisions. They represent a nuisance and a danger in urban areas where children abound.
“In many cases, the sheriff’s office is not called in because the disturbed resident doesn’t want to see the dogs shot or because the idea of a blazing pistol seems more frightening than the dogs.
“More often that is realized, residents shoot stray dogs themselves. Some do it gladly, some reluctantly. In subdivisions, dog owners should keep their dogs at home and not permit them to roam at random.
“But dogs inevitably make temporary or permanent escapes from their owners. Should they be shot on the spot?
“Actually, they should be picked up. What Terrebonne Parish and Houma need is a dog pound and a system for eliminating vicious or stray dogs is a humane fashion and not by promiscuous shooting.
“Such a dog pound would be responsible for finding the rightful owner of valued pets and of helping to find owners for unclaimed mutts. Stray dogs would then disappear from streets and roads; nothing inhumane need be done and only unwanted dogs would be destroyed.
“The city and parish should get together and plan a dog pound or a substitute measure as was originally intended back in 1952 when the parish press reported:
“ ‘A committee of representatives from the city of Houma, the Terrebonne Parish police jury, veterinarians and the parish health commission is expected to be formed in the near future to make an extensive study of programs being carried out in neighboring parishes to control stray dogs and cats.’
“As far as we know, nothing ever resulted.
“Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies continue blasting away in answer to complaints and packs of stray mutts continue wandering the parish at will.”
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Bless the Bullys