11/16/08 — Mount Olive committee agress on animal rules

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Mount Olive committee agress on animal rules

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 16, 2008 2:00 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The ad hoc committee charged with reviewing how police respond to calls involving dogs following a September incident in which police killed a family pet has released it recommendations.

"I am really pleased with what we were able to come up with," said Melanie Ladd, an animal rescue volunteer who chaired the committee. "The police department took the initiative and actually had some guidelines drawn up before we met for the first time."

The town and police department were thrown into a maelstrom following a Sept. 18 incident in which police used a shotgun to kill a dog after responding to a call from a woman who said a vicious dog had chased her into her house.

Mrs. Ladd said she did not want the committee's meetings to stall on the details or aftermath of the incident.

"I wanted to concentrate on how to keep it from happening in the future," she said.

Mrs. Ladd said the committee received good input from Michael Kicia, the dog's owner, and Colby Magnum, who had the dog at her house.

"I thought it was very telling that they were so reasonable and never advocated for the officer's dismissal as had some people," Mrs. Ladd said. "It was very positive, and I think we accomplished what we set out to do. We have the backing of the town board and any discussion or problem rising again I think the committee would be willing to get back together."

Mrs. Ladd noted that police officers are not trained in animal control and that Wayne County Animal Control Director Justin Scally attended some of the meetings to offer his input and assistance so officers would feel more comfortable handling animal issues.

The report, issued jointly by the committee, Town Manager Charles Brown, Chief of Police Ralph Schroeder and police Major Brian Rhodes, said that the actions of the officer involved in the shooting were within his scope of authority as defined by town ordinance.

It adds, however, that the town has "resolved to take action to clarify how such matters should be handled in the future."

The town has added a catch pole for police to use and has ordered a transport box and animal-appropriate pepper spray, Brown said.

Those items will not be put into use until officers have been trained by Scally and other county animal control officers.

However, the report notes that "these changes should not be construed to mean that deadly force will never again be necessary." That includes cases of suspected rabid animals or when there is "imminent danger" to the public or officers.

The new guidelines require that leash law violations be handled the same as any other complaint -- documented and maintained at the police station.

If the identity of the owner is not known, or if the animal is a stray, officers will contact the county to have it picked up by animal control. Officers are to provide the phone number for animal control to the person making the complaint for follow-up calls.

The changes also include action taken earlier this month when town commissioners amended a town ordinance by adding civil penalties for people who allow their dogs to run loose. The town retains its authority to bring charges, which would be heard in district court.

Police now can issue a written warning for the first offense. The written warnings will be kept on file for future reference.

For the second offense within a 30-day period, starting the day of the first offense, officers are "strongly recommended" to issue a $100 civil fine. For the third offense within the 30 days, officers are "strongly recommended" to issue a $250 civil fine. A fourth and any subsequent offenses within the 30 days would require a $500 fine.

After the third call and second citation, the officer is required to call animal control to trap the animal. If it appears animal control will be unable to respond in a timely manner, efforts should be made to capture the animal and hold it for animal control.

The amendment authorizes the town attorney to collect the penalties. Should legal action be required to collect the penalties, the town attorney may "recover reasonable attorney fees" and other costs incurred in bringing the action and collecting the judgment.

In the case of an animal deemed as dangerous, officers will monitor the situation until animal control arrives. When calling animal control, officers should say that the animal is dangerous.

For more information, call Brown at 658-9539 or Schroeder at 658-5031.