Council discusses animal control ordinance, owner responsibility

With the second incident of a dog biting a human being this month having occurred over the weekend, the Fulton City Council Tuesday night discussed the effectiveness of the city’s current animal control ordinance.

Don Beauchamp, whose dog bit a young Fulton boy Saturday morning after the dog itself was attacked by another dog Friday night, spoke during the comments from visitors portion of Tuesday night’s meeting about the issue.

“My family was the victim of a pit bull attack this weekend,” Beauchamp said of the Friday night incident in which he said his mixed breed dog was chained on a leash in his front yard and was attacked by an unleashed pit bull owned by the parents of the injured boy. “You do not understand; when one of these animals grabs a hold of your dog, your child, yourself, they do not let go.

“These dogs are dangerous to you, to your family. It’s not a good dog for kids to be around.”

He also complained that it took the Fulton Police Department more than 30 minutes to respond when he called about the pit bull attacking his dog, noting “that was unacceptable.”

Maj. Roger Rice, FPD’s assistant chief, addressed that concern — also pointing out the response to the bite the following day was within 4 minutes — noting the department’s response time to the call was not as slow as it first appears.

“There was a call in to the EOC at 6:39 p.m. The caller was very angry because he said he had called 15 minutes earlier and there was no one there ... he was afraid (the pit bull) was going to hurt his children,” Rice said, explaining that the dispatcher was confused because they knew nothing about this previous call. “The call was dispatched to us at 6:41, an officer arrived on the scene at 6:53:18.”

Worried about the disparaging accounts regarding the time of the first call, Rice said he contacted AT&T, the phone company which handles service for Callaway County Emergency Operations Center and was told no calls had come in to the center from Beauchamp’s number before 6:39. Rice said the AT&T technician explained to him that Beauchamp had made the call from a voice-over IP phone, which sends information over the Internet.

“What happened is, the first time you call 911 with this kind of system is it goes to (the phone company’s) emergency system. That information should have been forwarded to us. It was not,” Rice said. “Either they didn’t understand the situation, or they sent it to the wrong trunk.

“We were not aware of the call until he called back and was understandably upset.”

Beauchamp was not the only citizen to comment on the situation; another Fulton resident who said her son was attached by a pit bull 14 years ago agreed the breed is dangerous, while Tiffany McBee stood up for the breed and noted any dog can bite.

Charles Williams, a write-in candidate for Ward 4, got up to comment on the issue as well. Citing Washington D.C.’s animal control policies, he said the city needs to look at the dogs’ owners, noting “let’s hold the people more responsible, and not the animals.”

“I looked up Fulton’s regulations and it just says the dog has to be on a leash. I don’t think that’s enough,” Williams added. “I tell my 4-year-old granddaughter, if it has teeth it bites. I think we should also have a muzzle so they can’t attack people or animals.”

Les Hudson, director of planning and protective services, also said, “as long as you have animals, you’re going to have these issues.”

Reiterating an opinion he had voiced at the March 8 meeting, Hudson said he did not think targeting a particular breed in ordinance form would necessarily solve the problem.

Ward 1 Councilman Mike West suggested the city form a committee to look at Fulton’s animal control ordinance and suggest possible improvements. Ward 4 Councilman Steve Moore countered that the committee should be comprised of the council members and representatives from the police and animal control departments rather than “dumping a problem on a committee. ... We were elected to solve these problems.”

Ward 1 Councilman Wayne Chailland pointed out there are several issues involved that need to be addressed, such as why the pit bull was running free one day after having attacked another dog.

“The officer was following the ordinance,” Rice said in defense of the pit bull not being taken into custody Friday night.

Director of Administration Bill Johnson said that with the existing ordinance, “until (a dog) bites somebody, it’s not a vicious animal.”

“In my opinion, the ordinance we have today doesn’t have enough teeth,” Rice said. “We’re not making people responsible for their animals. All we have is failure to restrain, and that’s only $25. It needs to be updated.”

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