Dog attacks highlight ignored pet laws

6:36 PM, Apr 30, 2012   |    comments
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After two pit bulls escaped a fenced yard and attacked three people over the weekend, the owner was cited by the Knoxville Police Department. 

The four citations consisted of two for at-large animals and another two for having animals without rabies and city identification tags.

Knoxville Animal Control officers said people frequently are either unaware or ignore rules for pets.

"All dogs in Knoxville have to have city license and rabies tags.  A lot of people don't know about the city license tag," said Karen Randolph with Knoxville Animal Control.  "Dogs and cats are allowed to be off a leash as long as they stay on your property.  As soon as they leave the property, they have to be on a leash.  The law says that includes cats."

KPD responded to 224 dog bites in 2011. Last year there were also 21 police reports for cat bites.

"Cat bites can actually be pretty nasty," said Randolph.  "I think usually we get calls about cat bites a couple of days after the fact when the bite is swollen and infected."

The two pit bulls involved in the attack Saturday escaped a fenced-in yard and attacked a dog that was being walked. A couple of the bites were suffered when people tried to break up the dogs. 

However, victim Selena Jones told 10News she was not trying to separate the dogs when she was bitten.  Jones said one dog that was already separated ran directly towards her and intentionally bit her arm.

Randolph said it does not matter what caused the pit bulls to escape, the ultimate responsibility for the attack falls on the owner.

"It is your responsibility to keep the dog on that property," said Randolph.  "If an animal bites someone, it is automatically quarantined for 10 days.  The animal is not released to the owner before 10 days because the owner has already proven that it is not able to keep the pet contained.  The dog is either kept in quarantine at Young Williams or with a certified vet."

If the owner does not request to have the animal returned, after 10 days the animal is euthanized.

"Young Williams cannot put animals up for adoption that have attacked people, so they are put down," said Randolph.  "If the owner asks to have their pets back, it is then considered a 'dangerous dog.'  That has to do with the behavior of the dog, not the breed."

Dangerous dogs can return home once the owner has complied with various restrictions.

"There are two different levels of restrictions that depend on how severe the attack is.  The first level says owners are required to take them to obedience courses.  The dog would have to be contained by a visible fence. We would have to certify the fence is secured for the animal."

Severe attacks result in tougher restrictions.

"The second level of dangerous dog can't go off the property unless it is muzzled. They also have to have a certain amount of homeowner's insurance to cover any possible damage the dog could do.  The dogs also have to be kept in pens that have floors and a roof, which is like a doggie jail," said Randolph.

Animal control emphasizes human behavior dictates the behavior of pets and opportunities for attacks.

"The leash laws say your animal must be on a visible leash.  There are a lot of people who go down to Sequoyah Park and let their dogs run free and that is not okay.  You have people with invisible fences that do not change the batteries on their dogs' collars.  Those have to be changed every month," said Randolph.  "The most important thing for people to know is it is an issue with the animals' owners.  It is not the animals."

As of Monday afternoon, KPD said it was unsure if the owner of the two dogs involved in Saturday's attack had requested to have the animals returned.

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