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Cory Henson with Morgan County Animal Control was called to pick up a dog at Florette recently.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Cory Henson with Morgan County Animal Control was called to pick up a dog at Florette recently.

Bad dog
Leash law helps, but vicious animals still tax Morgan control personnel

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com · 340-2437

Bicycle riding can sometimes turn into a race when people encounter aggressive four-legged opponents on a country road.

Morgan County adopted a state leash law in 1990 and animal control officials say they are doing their best to enforce it.

But dogs are still running wild and endangering people.

Bud Rivers of Decatur had a personal experience when a pack of dogs got after him while he was bicycling three years ago.

“I was out riding southeast of Hartselle and several dogs ran out,” Rivers recalled. “One of the dogs hit my front wheel and took me down. Actually I went over the handlebars and into a ditch. Two of us were riding and the guy said he heard something and turned around and I was in the air upside down. I went to the emergency room, and I had five broken ribs and a cracked collarbone.”

Rivers said the three-day hospital stay and treatment cost about $12,000.

He said owners shouldn’t let their dogs roam freely and officials should push the leash law.

Animal Control Director Claudia Ray said although her department gets warrants for known cases of people violating the law, she encourages complainants to do so first.

“We’ve had some people who had to resort to getting a warrant,” said Ray.

“We tell them to first talk to their neighbor without going that far. A lot of times people don’t want to come to court against their neighbor. We get warrants, too, but it’s very few because most of the time we have not seen the dogs running at large. In the last three years probably 30 to 40 people got warrants for the violation.”

Linda Clemons, a Morgan district court clerk, said she issues few warrants for violation of the leash law, a misdemeanor.

“It’s not that many that come in,” Clemons said. “People come in every so often and sometimes there’s a fine, which is no more than $5 to $50, and then sometimes there’s not a fine and the case is dismissed.”

Vicious animal attacks are numerous.

“This year complaints of vicious animals picked up,” Ray said. “We had six last week and if we can find the dog, we pick it up. We call a health officer who tells us when the dog has to be tested for rabies.”

She said stray dogs that bite people are usually euthanized and then rabies testing is done.

Pitbulls and mixed breeds are the most vicious, Ray said.

Fred Vengrouskie, an environmentalist with the county health department, said dog attacks increase seasonally.

“Maybe animals get a little bit more irritable in hot weather or maybe there are more people out and there’s more exposure,” said Vengrouskie.

Rivers said people shouldn’t underestimate dogs.

“They’re unpredictable,” he said. “We had ridden by there before and they ran along beside you. I guess I had gotten too used to them and this day they came out on us.”

Despite the number of dogs that continue to run loose, Ray said animal control in the county is at its best.

“I feel like the leash law is as good as it’s going to get in the county,” she said.

“I can remember one time when we stayed in court from 9 in the morning until 8:30 at night. We don’t have the personnel to sit in court all day long. We advise people to do record keeping and get pictures of dogs on their property and then get a warrant. They can do that just like we get warrants.”

Ray and three employees are running the animal shelter, located in Hartselle, and they are doing animal control.

She said they have to investigate complaints and not rush
to judgment, and that takes time.

County commissions cannot pass ordinances, but can adopt state law.

“They’ve done that and I think they are doing all they can do,” Ray said of the Morgan Commission.

“They always listen to us and do a good job of providing what we need.”

Avoiding dog attacks

  • Don’t run past a dog. A dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch prey.

  • If a dog advances toward you, don’t scream. Avoid eye contact and try to stay still until the dog leaves. Back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.

  • If you believe a dog is about to attack, try to place something between you and the dog such as a backpack or bicycle.

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