BROOKSVILLE — Haunted by pictures and stories of brutal dog attacks told by several Hernando County residents in recent months, the County Commission on Tuesday directed staff to bring it new, stricter rules and penalties for those who don’t control their canine companions.
A half dozen residents on Tuesday reminded commissioners of their horror stories — a beloved dog ripped apart in front of small children, packs of vicious dogs terrorizing neighbors and a pony mauled so badly it had to be euthanized. In another case, a man had to shoot an attacking dog in front of his 2-year-old and 4-year-old sons.
County commissioners and county officials charged with enforcing the laws complained they were fighting dog owners who were irresponsible or not controlling animals by keeping them on a leash or behind a secure fence.
James Terry, the county’s animal services manager, explained that state law on dangerous dogs is effective when it kicks in, but that two serious incidents must occur before a dog falls under those rules. Counties can modify the law, he said, but they can’t change the multiple-attack rule.
Recent attacks in Hernando County have occurred when dogs were off their own property and out of the control of their owners, Terry said.
But county rules to keep animals on a leash or on their own property haven’t stopped complaints, residents said, because animal services officers who respond to vicious attacks turn the dogs back over to their owners. Residents also complained that fines leveled against some owners were not high enough to make a difference.
County attorney Garth Coller said those who defy citations and end up before the special magistrate face legal fees that can mount into the thousands of dollars. However, people often cannot afford to pay the fines and don’t own anything the county can confiscate to collect them, he said.
"The main thing we want to accomplish is that we don’t want this to happen again,’’ Terry said.
Commission Chairman Steve Champion said he wants to come at the issue from multiple angles, to include shutting down people who run puppy mills.
"You’d have to consider breeding rules,’’ Terry said, and a focus needs to stay on spaying and neutering pets.
Champion also wants the Sheriff to help with the problem.
"Not just a ticket, a commitment,’’ Champion said. While the county runs animal services, the Sheriff employs the officers who respond to complaints.
The county’s legal office agreed to bring back stricter rules for commissioners to consider at a future meeting.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.