Following a public hearing that saw mostly supportive comments, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors during its Nov. 10 meeting unanimously adopted a proposed amendment to county code prohibiting dogs from running at large in the county.
According to the new policy a dog is considered “at large” if it is not under an owner’s immediate control or if it is off the owner’s or custodian’s property. Unleashed dogs that obey commands or are welcomed onto another property, for example, would not be considered, “at-large.”
Of the roughly 10 individuals that addressed the board during the hearing, a majority spoke in favor of adopting the amendment.
Bonnie Stevens, an employee of the Nelson County Humane Society who also sat on the committee that helped draft the amendment, told board members the intent of the ordinance is to be a “tool in the toolbox” for animal control officers when issues arise with particular dogs. She said there are no intentions to interfere with hunting dogs or farm dogs protecting livestock.
“Right now animal control has no ability to act until you are attacked by the dog. Until that happens, they can’t do anything; now with this ordinance, they’ll be able to do something,” said West District Supervisor David Parr, who helped pen the measure along with other members of the Nelson County community.
Some speakers, like Joanne Thompson Clarkson, recounted experiences of walking either on or near their property and being attacked by roaming dogs, adding she was “very anxious” to see the measure pass. Other speakers pointed out being inconvenienced by dogs that would wander onto their property.
“I was told by animal control to carry bear mace because … unless I got mauled or injured there was nothing I could do,” Mary Rush, of Afton, said of being chased by dogs while walking. “... I shouldn’t have to carry bear mace just to go for a walk.”
Brenda Saunders, of Afton, expressed concern over the measure. She told board members she understood the need for dogs to be under control when in neighborhoods, but she said living in rural areas with no immediate surrounding properties is different. Saunders questioned why the ordinance couldn’t be applied only to the neighborhoods experiencing the issue.
Parr said the ordinance works on a three-strike policy. When dogs are found to be in violation of the newly adopted policy, animal control or other law enforcement will issue a written warning to the responsible owner or custodian that future violations will result in a fine of $150. A second violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, the document states.
Owners or custodians of a dog found to be running at large as part of a pack will be fined $100 per dog found, the ordinance states.
Hunting dogs with tags showing the owner’s name and phone number, along with farm dogs, service dogs who’s handler is unable to use a tether, or dogs in supervised training exercises or in fenced-in dog parks, are not considered to be at large, the ordinance states.
David McGann, of Afton, was one of the hunters who served on the committee and was glad to see an ordinance he feels protects the public. He said he has 23 dogs, and hunters who take care of their hounds know where they are.
“This ordinance that we … wrote together, it ain’t Albemarle County, it ain’t Augusta County, it ain’t Buckingham County, it’s a Nelson County ordinance,” McGann said.
When asked by Central District Supervisor Ernie Reed, Parr said the hunting dog exception is not limited to just when that hound is performing hunting-related activities.
“I knew going into it that if we didn’t seek input from key players in the hunting community that we would have the same battle,” Parr said when reached by phone following the meeting, referencing a failed attempt by the board of supervisors in 2018 to pass a different leash law that was met with overwhelming opposition.
Another hunter in the Massies Mill area, Carl Coffey, who also served on the committee, said nearly all the hunters he has spoken with were in favor of the measure.
“The reason why I think this ordinance needs to be approved is when a person can’t walk up and down the street without getting attacked by a dog something needs to happen,” Coffey said. “I think we all, all the citizens of this county, need to be protected from vicious dogs and if it’s a hunting dog, so be it …”
Parr said the ordinance took effect immediately.
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