Naked City

Commissioners to Vote on Leash Law

Attention Travis County residents: The commissioners court is hereby sick of talking about passing a leash law and is ready to actually pass one. Really. They mean it this time.

The court first visited the issue in January as a response to the mauling of an 8-year-old girl by a pack of loose dogs. While the city of Austin has a leash law, the county has no such thing, and in hearings the court learned the county's current rules give residents no avenue with which to deal with aggressive dogs until they have actually hurt a person. Thus, the drafted ordinance is for those unincorporated parts of Travis Co. that don't already have municipal animal ordinances (i.e., not in the city of Austin), enabling law enforcement to force owners to restrain aggressive dogs before someone gets mauled. In short, owners must keep dogs on their own property in whatever way they see fit; dogs off an owner's property must be on a leash if they're not in a dog park; law enforcement can round up dogs behaving aggressively; and any dog ruled "dangerous" must be registered and confined. Simple enough, right?

Nope. Hearings on the proposed ordinance blossomed into a veritable potpourri of opinions – including some from city residents who wouldn't even be affected by the ordinance – on everything from different registration systems to what constitutes "aggressive." Of primary concern was whether the law would be used to punish responsible owners of nice doggies who had moved to the county so their pups could roam free. During Tuesday's hearing, a county resident showed up to make just that point to the court, prompting an outburst from Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. After two months of discussion, the commissioner was clearly growing weary of explaining that the point isn't to round up dogs that want nothing more than to lick you to death. "Don't get unduly excited," said Daugherty, himself rather excited. "This is not set up for that. This is set up for a dog that is dangerous."

The commissioners will really, truly vote next Tuesday on a final ordinance, a draft of which will be available to the public by Friday. The court welcomes final comments on the issues the ordinance will address – confinement requirements, the definition of a "dangerous dog," and plans for enforcement and public education – but may growl if you try to weigh in on animal-related issues not included in the current ordinance.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Travis County Commissioners Court, Gerald Daugherty, leash law

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