SHARON – To fight what one city councilwoman referred to as a significant problem, Sharon council is considering adopting an ordinance to deal with vicious dogs.
"Shenango Valley Animal Shelter has had issues with dogs getting loose in the city," Councilwoman Molly Bundrant said.
City Manager Bob Fiscus presented a sample ordinance, based on a recommendation from the ASPCA, Wednesday at council's workshop meeting. He warned against passing legislation that would be specific to a single breed of dog.
"What they recommend against is labeling a breed of dog as vicious," Fiscus said. "It should be, a dog is vicious after it attacks someone, if knowledge becomes apparent that the attack was unprovoked."
If a dog is determined to be vicious after evaluation by a veterinarian or dog behavioralist, the dog's owner would have to take action, including use of leashes and muzzles and implantation of a microchip, to protect the public.
Under the sample legislation, any dog that is deemed vicious would have to be confined securely in a manner that allows the dog adequate exercise when outdoors on the owner's property.
Fiscus said violations of the ordinance would subject the dog's owner to penalties established in other city ordinances. Under those guidelines, violators could face fines of up to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second. After the second violation, potential penalties call for a maximum of $10,000 and imprisonment.
Bundrant asked if the ordinance could include a provision for removing vicious dogs from residences, which was not included in the sample Fiscus provided.
"How many strikes are they getting," she said. "I mean, is it unlimited strikes if your dog's vicious?"
Fiscus said the city cannot confiscate dogs, even ones termed vicious, and that only dog wardens would have that authority. However, he said Solicitor Bill Madden could check if the city could order residents to surrender vicious dogs.
"You may be able to require that they remove the dog and if they don't, cite them," Fiscus said.
Council discussed the need to deal with problem dogs at a meeting last month.
Angelia Sherman, director of the Shenango Valley Animal Shelter, said the city needs a dog ordinance to assist the shelter, which provides animal control services for participating communities, including Sharon.
She said the shelter's animal control services have had to respond to owners who have had more than one dog commit multiple attacks, which makes a dog ordinance necessary.
"I think that's something that definitely needs to be looked at," she said.
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