Vicious-dog ordinances see increase

By Errol Castens

OXFORD – Carolyn Kachelein is one of countless rural residents in Northeast Mississippi with a similar problem.
“I have dogs on either side of me that bark all night long,” she said.
The nuisance became a serious problem earlier this month when Kachelein’s husband, Ed, came home to recover from heart surgery and the barking – at times just outside their bedroom window – robbed him of the sleep that’s crucial to his recovery.
Neighbors were unresponsive to the couple’s personal requests to keep their dogs penned up.
“The only way we can change this is to call the sheriff’s office,” Carolyn Kachelein said. Deputy sheriffs are always responsive despite the 17-mile distance from Oxford, she told Lafayette County supervisors last week, and after they visit, the dogs are usually kept quiet at night for a few days.
With the Kacheleins and others, the problem doesn’t end with dogs’ noise. Rural residents often have to put up with property destruction by free-roaming dogs. Many walkers find dogs threaten them along their routes – or even on their own property. The Kacheleins said they have been confronted by a pit bull mix in their driveway.
“I don’t want to have to carry a weapon just to go to the mailbox,” Ed Kachelein said.
Carolyn Kachelein said the Sheriff’s Office has responded every time she’s made a request, but the relief from the problem is always short-lived. She recounts the neighbor’s reply on one occasion to officers: “They said, ‘I will not keep my dogs up, because there’s no leash law, and that’s why I live in the country.'”
Board President Lloyd Oliphant noted he and other supervisors had met last year with homeowners concerned about vicious and nuisance dogs.
“It seemed like every avenue and path we looked at, there was an existing law that addressed it,” he said. “I’m not sure from the law aspect that we don’t have something to cover it.”
Even if county officials were willing to stand a possible backlash from rural dog owners, state law ties their hands regarding free-roaming dogs in rural areas. While any municipality may pass a leash law, a cursory review of state law seems to indicate the only counties authorized to prohibit free-roaming dogs altogether are Hinds and the three coastal counties.
However, the state does require rabies vaccination for all dogs, and those found without such proof may be caught and, if an owner doesn’t offer proof of vaccination within five days, euthanized.
Mississippi law also allows residents statewide to kill, without liability, dogs that harass or harm livestock or poultry.
Alcorn County supervisors last week passed a vicious-animal ordinance based on the one Lee County has had since 2005. Jeff Patterson, supervisor in Alcorn’s District 2, led the push after some of his constituents reported vicious dogs in their neighborhoods.
“There are some subdivisions in this district whose roads were not built to standard, so we never accepted them. Ultimately, their mail and trash have to be picked up at the county road,” he said. “People couldn’t get their mail or take their trash out because there were dogs that would chase them.
“There were taxpayers who couldn’t use the county road even to walk on,” Patterson said. “Being a supervisor, I understand there are two sides to every story, but your number-one priority is the people’s safety.”
Pontotoc County supervisors may have the same idea. After the January death of Ronnie Waldo from a dog mauling, they began discussions of a vicious-dog ordinance at their Feb. 7 meeting and promised to study what might address the problem.
“We do have a lot of dog calls,” said Pontotoc County Sheriff Neal Davis.
In Tippah County, however, Board of Supervisors President Jimmy Gunn said vicious-dog reports are rare.
“We haven’t had any real problems recently,” he said. “We get calls from time to time about nuisance dogs, but not much.”
Lee County’s approach
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said his county’s dog ordinance has worked well.
“It’s not a leash law. It addresses four categories of animals – abandoned, abused, neglected or if it poses a threat,” he said.
“If we have to capture an animal, we drop it at the Humane Society. In case of an animal that poses a threat, they keep it to see if it continues to be a threat,” Johnson added.
In some counties, officials have expressed concern that animal ordinances might be used as fuel in neighborhood feuds.
“Under ours, we have to have an individual who signs the complaint, so it’s not anonymous,” Johnson said. If the allegations pan out, he said, “You can be fined financially and lose the possession of the animal.”
Johnson and his officers treat incessant barking as any other disturbance of the peace.
“It’s no different than fireworks, loud music or any other noise,” he said.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.