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Commissioners, JCSO discuss dog problem

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and county commissioners are looking for possible solutions to curb the amount of calls received about loose dogs in the unincorporated areas of the county. Deputy Don Metts told the commissioners during a workshop Monday that calls have doubled over the last year and lack of leash laws make it difficult for the department to do anything about the calls without direct threat of harm.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, in 2017 the department received 37 calls for “viscous dogs” and 83 of the same calls in 2018. Bites also jumped from 39 to 66 from 2017 to 2018.

“We’re getting a lot more movement out in the county,” Metts said. “Our residential areas like Gilbert Lake Estates, Ridgecrest and places like that are having a lot of homes being built out there. Our population in the unincorporated areas is growing, which means the number of dogs are growing.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Brent Weaver said a large part of the problem is people dumping their dogs in the unincorporated areas.

Metts said he is happy that Beaumont shelters are no-kill shelters, but that means they fill up and start turning away dogs.

“The cities around here will take anything that’s inside their city, but now they have cut off anything outside,” Metts said. “The Humane Society usually has a 90-day waiting period before they can take anything. One thing I’m trying to get people to understand is that the people who want to get rid of them, want to get rid of them.”

Metts said a dog could be declared dangerous if it makes an aggressive act towards a person, but that can make for tough calls.

“I fool with dogs,” Metts said. “I own several dogs. I’m not scared of dogs. I deal with them every day. I can’t go by my opinion. It would have to be pretty bad for me to declare a dog dangerous. I can walk up to a dog, and just with the way I do it, the dog will shy off a bit. One thing a dog understands is fear. If you’re scared, then it doesn’t take as much to say a dog is dangerous.”

Metts said different people have a different idea of what is dangerous.

“The majority of the dogs are going to be fear barking,” Metts said. “That’s where the dog isn’t sure and they are just barking because they don’t want the person to come any closer but the dog is walking away. A lot of people don’t understand that a lot of people have moved from the city and feel like they don’t need to be barked at.”

Some instances have been more serious. Both deputies and commissioners said they received a call about dogs roaming onto property and chasing a 4-year-old boy back into his home.

“They can say yes we’re going to do it or not, but at least someone buying a lot knows what the rules are,” County Judge Jeff Branick said.

Metts said without a leash law, the only way to keep a dog off your property is to fence it in.

“Without a leash law, your neighbor’s dog has just as much a right on your property as your dogs do,” he said.

Creating a leash law in unincorporated areas is not a simple fix either. Most of those areas do not have leash laws because many of the dogs tend to livestock.

“I don’t really know how to work around that,” Metts said. “They have to have the dogs free to work the livestock.”

Branick said he will look into requiring home owners associations in the unincorporated areas to designate whether or not they will require dogs to be on leashes or not.

Sheriff Zena Stephens, who lives in the unincorporated area, said HOAs did not have that designation at the time her subdivision was built, but would like to encourage developing subdivisions to either have their own leash rules or designate that they won’t.

“All of the communities in the rural area are hybrid,” she said. “You have ranches and you have subdivisions. We’re going to have to figure out an area that we are going to keep some of the strays and some of the dogs we find.”