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County fences in dangerous dogs

By Joel Hall

After receiving a series of complaints about vicious dogs, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted 3-1 this week to strengthen the county's animal restraint ordinance by bolstering existing regulations on how dogs are kept.

The new rules, championed by Commissioner Wole Ralph, require dogs to be retained within a fence that has a 2-to-1 height ratio to the dog, up to six feet in height. If a dog is larger than half the height of the fence, the dog must be chained in a way that it cannot escape the yard.

The new ordinance also includes language as to how a fence must be properly maintained. Ralph said the ordinance is "a work in progress," but believes it is a step in the right direction toward improving safety in the county.

"This came in because of the number of vicious-dog complaints that we've had," said Ralph. "We've had complaints of dogs chasing kids at bus stops, dogs jumping fences and attacking people in their yards ... the complaints go on and on.

"The ordinance was revised because we didn't have a way, in many ways, to deal with those concerns," Ralph said. "Everybody should know that a dog should not be able to assault them, if they are on their own property."

Jennifer Grier, a dog owner from Riverdale's Bethsaida Woods subdivision, welcomed the new regulations. She said her miniature schnauzer was mauled to death by her next-door neighbor's rottweiler earlier this summer. She wanted commissioners to do more, including stricter punishments for offenders.

"I want to appeal to the board that there has to be stronger enforcement of this and other animal control regulations," said Grier. "The rottweiler and pit bull are still there, still charging the fence, still growling, and making it impossible for me to enjoy my property or my home.

"There seems to be something very wrong with our system that two-and-a-half months after the fatal attack on my dog and the attack on another neighbor, that the owners have not suffered any serious consequences for their negligence," she added.

Ralph said Clayton has faced a "major challenge" recently in a rapid rise in the ownership and illegal breeding of pit bulls and rottweilers. State laws limit the county's ability to prohibit residents from owning any particular breeds of dogs.

"Since the law is not allowed to discriminate against the type of dog ... we had to do something generic enough to give protection," said Ralph. "Instead of getting into a debate about which dogs are vicious, we wanted to make sure that the citizens are protected."

"If we can eliminate the [vicious] dogs in the county, it is something that we should take a serious look at, and I wouldn't shy away from that at all," Ralph added. "At the same time, we have to be respectful of the law and our law limitations."

Commissioner Virginia Gray was not present at Tuesday's BOC meeting to vote on the ordinance. Commissioner Michael Edmondson voted against the ordinance, saying that the language of the new ordinance was confusing. "I think the intent of this is good, but I think the wording is poor," said Edmondson.

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell urged the county's legal department to research ways to make it more difficult for people in Clayton County to raise dangerous dogs.

"I implore you to continue to look, to bring back recommendations to the board as to how to be further restrictive on persons who are rearing vicious dogs in our neighborhoods," Bell said.