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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2007
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Lawrence women pushing dangerous dog fines
Rescue owner against detailed animal control bill

By Nancy Glasscock
nglasscock@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — Beth Spillers wants the Lawrence County Commission to adopt an ordinance, letting Animal Control Officer Carolyn Atchison issue fines of $2 to $50 to owners of dangerous dogs.

Spillers, owner of Dixie Coonhound Rescue, said she and others are lobbying against a more detailed legislative bill that would impose a $100,000 insurance policy for dangerous dogs and let animal control officers seize the dogs without warning.

Earlier this year, the commission tabled discussion on the ordinance that would have allowed Atchison to fine owners of dangerous dogs, Spillers said.

She said she fears the legislation will pass.

"They want to write some big, long, involved dangerous dog ordinance that would involve huge fines and insurance policies and bonds," Spillers said.

Spillers said animal control officers lack the training to determine whether a dog is truly a danger, but Atchison said recently she and other officers are "more than trained to handle the tasks they're doing."

Spillers said if Atchison is allowed to fine irresponsible dog owners, complaints about vicious dogs would dramatically decrease.

"All the commission has to do is adopt it, and Carolyn will have the authority to write tickets to these people who let their dogs run loose," Spillers said.

She said that even in the city limits, where leash laws are in effect, roaming dogs remain a problem.

"Not too many people follow them, but some people do," she said. "I have coonhounds, and they'll be baying in some window at 2 in the morning. I'm not about to let them run loose."

Spillers runs Dixie Coonhound Rescue, a non-profit rescue organization, out of her home, and only adopts dogs out to owners with fenced yards.

The county's attorney, Cecil Caine, said the commission has not come to a consensus on a dangerous dog ordinance. The commission could approve a countywide leash law, but those laws aren't commonly seen in rural areas like Lawrence County, he said.

"They don't have a lot of tools in these cases," Caine said. "The only thing that I know of is a statue authorizing counties to adopt a countywide leash law, and that's something not very many counties have done. ... When you have a rural county, it would be very controversial."

Caine said the commission could approve a limited self-governance act, also known as home rule, which would allow more local government control on some issues like how to deal with dangerous animals. To adopt the act, the commission must approve a resolution, then hold a countywide vote.

"If they (voters) vote to do it, then the county has limited self-governance, which covers limited subjects like animal control," Caine said.

Spillers said counties with limited self-governance have introduced strict "constitutionally questionable" animal control ordinances written by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama in Montgomery.

"They are pushing hard for all counties to adopt home rule and to pass ordinances they are authoring," she said.

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