Fees hiked for owners whose dogs attack in Terrebonne

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wwltv.com

Posted on September 24, 2012 at 10:11 AM

Updated Monday, Sep 24 at 10:11 AM

Kris Johnson / Houma Courier

Terrebonne residents whose dogs attack someone could soon face nearly $300 in fees, in addition to any court costs and fines.

The Parish Council is scheduled to consider the new fees Monday.

The proposed ordinance would be added to the Terrebonne animal-control law, which saw some sweeping changes in November.

In addition to current court costs and fines, the proposal would impose a $225 administrative-hearing cost, a $35 charge for investigating and determining ownership of the dog and a $30 fee for processing the case and serving notices.

The fees, totaling $290, will all be required for anyone who wants a chance to prove a dog isn’t dangerous.

There would be a $150 fee as a penalty for failure to appear at hearings in the case.

“When a dog has been declared as dangerous per the parish ordinance, its owners have a right to a dangerous-dog hearing in front of a panel to provide the opportunity to explain why they believe their dog isn’t dangerous,” Parish Animal Shelter Manager Valerie Robinson said. “The administrative-hearing fees can be assessed, as determined by the panel, at the conclusion of the hearing to assist with covering the costs incurred through the investigation, processing and the hearing itself.”

Parish Manager Al Levron, Parish Risk Manager J. Dana Ortego and Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis make up the panel, which decided the fees.

The Terrebonne Parish Council will vote on introducing the ordinance Monday during the Public Services Committee meeting. It’s one in a series of meetings that start at 5:30 p.m. Monday on the second floor of the Government Tower, Main and Gabasse streets.

If passed, a public hearing will be held Oct. 10 before a final vote is taken.

Last year’s changes to the parish’s animal-control laws set tougher standards for vicious animals and their owners though they do not single out any specific breeds.

The changes, debated for nearly a year, passed unanimously during the Nov. 30 council meeting.

Former Councilman Billy Hebert had previously singled out pit bulls and pit mixes for their ability to inflict severe injury, pointing out the mauling of a 4-year-old Houma boy in January 2011 and a separate attack on an 18-year-old in February 2011. But he said he backed away from a vicious-animal law that singled out specific breeds after he heard further debate.

The parish law is stricter than the state’s vicious-dog law, which the parish had been following.

The state defines a dog as vicious if it displays two incidents of aggression that prompt a defensive action, such as a person running away or fighting it off with a purse. The dog and its owner are then sent to local court for a hearing. There, an owner can try to defend the dog, surrender it to animal-control officers or, if a judge deems necessary, be punished with fines.

Under the changes adopted by the Parish Council, a dangerous dog is one that meets one of three criteria:

n Engages in any behavior that requires a defensive action when the person and the dog are off the property of the dog’s owner.

n Bites and severely injures anyone on or off the owner’s property.

n Bites and severely injures or kills any other animal on or off the owner’s property.

If the dog is found to be dangerous, the owner will have to follow several regulations to retain ownership, such as muzzling the dog when it’s off the owner’s property and obtaining a dangerous-dog license.

Vicious dogs are ones that, unprovoked, aggressively attack and kill or cause severe injury to a person on or off the owner’s property or that is involved in any attack after previously being labeled a dangerous dog.

All vicious dogs will be killed by an animal-control officer, and the owner can be banned from owning dogs in the future.

Anyone caught owning a vicious dog will face a fine of up to $500.

The law also gives parish animal-control officers police powers once they pass a training program established by the Louisiana Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. That means they will have the ability to investigate and issue citations and summons for animal-related crimes, such as neglect and abuse, and carry a firearm.

All fines for animal-related crimes will be directed to the animal shelter rather than the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office.

Councilwoman Christa Duplantis, who is also a nurse and animal lover, said she’s glad officials are continuously working to improve the law for the safety of local residents and other pets. She said it’s important for residents to be held accountable for their pets’ actions.

“If I had a vicious animal, which I would not have, but if I did, I would keep them in control,” she said. “That’s why I’m so big on getting a local animal welfare board together to get safety issues under control.”

She is working on the details of establishing such a board before presenting them to the rest of the council.

“This is very dear to my heart because I know recent stories of smaller, helpless dogs being viciously attacked or killed by dangerous dogs,” she added. “I’m in favor of doing whatever we have to do to keep other animals, our children in the parish and even adults safe because it can happen to adults too. We should stand by whatever we vote to put in place. Children like to get caught up. It can happen to adults.”

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