Law enforcers want more laws regarding vicious dogs

TUPELO – Thursday’s fatal pit bull attack on a 16-month-old girl in Union County has authorities in other Northeast Mississippi counties evaluating their ordinances protecting people from vicious dogs.
Destiny Marie Knox was killed by a pit bull while being watched by a baby sitter. The dog walked in the room and attacked the girl. Despite being hit and stabbed several times by a 19-year-old at the home, the dog still killed the child.
Even though vicious dogs like pit bulls have been the targets of dog bans and vicious dog ordinances across the state and nation over the past few years, many Northeast Mississippi counties don’t have any such laws restricting or regulating the ownership of vicious dogs, especially in rural areas.
Pontotoc, Prentiss, Monroe, Lafayette, Itawamba, Chickasaw, Union and Alcorn counties all lack vicious dog ordinances. In fact, many counties lack animal shelters and ordinances in general.
Lee County, the city of Tupelo and Corinth have such ordinances in place.
The Tupelo vicious dog ordinance reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person who owns or has in their possession or under their control or who keeps or harbors any dog within the corporate limits of the city to cause or permit any such dog to be at large within the city unless such dog is under the actual physical control of such person.”
A recent attack
In September a chained pit bull attacked an 18-month-old girl on Feemster Lake Road, causing serious injuries to her face that required dozens of stitches. The girl, who had been around the dog and was familiar with it, wandered outside to try to pet the animal when she was attacked.
The dog was taken by its owner to the Saltillo Small Animal Hospital and euthanized. No charges were filed against the owner of that dog. Details of what happened immediately prior to both child attacks are unknown.
Incidents like the ones Union County and Lee County is why Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar said he believes it’s important for everyone to have a vicious dog ordinance on the books.
“We have had several incidences where children have been bitten by dogs and often the pit bull-type dogs, but with no ordinance on the books our hands are tied,” Tolar said. “There is no law to enforce.”
Tolar said he believes not having a vicious dog ordinance may become a liability issue if someone is seriously injured by a dog.
Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson agrees, saying his hands are tied if no vicious dog ordinance is passed for his county.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said having a vicious dog ordinance is beneficial when trying to protect the public, but said it wouldn’t be fair to just put an ordinance on people who only own pit bulls.
“A beagle can be a vicious dog if trained to be,” said Johnson. “So just to say we’re going to regulate pit bulls isn’t the right way to go. Pit bulls have a reputation for being bred to be mean and vicious and that’s why all the attention is put on that breed. But any dog can be vicious, which is why we include any dog deemed vicious.”
Johnson said vicious dogs are those that show aggression toward people, like growling or biting.
Pontotoc County Sheriff Neal Davis said he feels the incident in Union County is going to get the ball rolling on getting some laws passed, possibly prohibiting people from owning pit bulls.
Several Union County police officers said Thursday’s tragedy highlights the need for statewide legislation against vicious dogs.
“I think it’s something that the Legislature needs to hear about,” said Chief Deputy Jimmy Whitten. “Something’s got to be done. You hear more and more about (this kind of attack) every day.”
Investigator Anthony Anderson added, “I feel compelled, as do some people I know in other agencies, that something needs to be done. People’s voices need to be heard on this.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal