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Alexandria takes action against dangerous dogs

ALEXANDRIA - If you have a potentially dangerous dog - or are worried about being attacked by one - perk up your ears.

The city of Alexandria is biting back.

At its meeting Monday night, the city council approved a second and final reading of an amended "dangerous dog" ordinance.

The council took the action at the advice of the city attorney's office and the city's legislative committee.

Alexandria's existing ordinance requires all dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs to be implanted with a microchip for identification purposes. If the dog owner doesn't have the chip implanted, the ordinance empowers the city to have it done.

The ordinance is being amended to make sure that the dog's owner, not the city, covers the cost of the procedure.

Another change would require owners of dangerous dogs to pay an annual fee of $500 to register the animal. The city approved a preliminary reading of the fee.

Although the city's ordinance doesn't specifically define a "dangerous dog," there are times when local law enforcement must deal with dogs running at large, according to Tom Jacobson, assistant city attorney. Dogs have also engaged in behavior that makes them dangerous under state law, he added.

Since 2002, the Alexandria Police Department has issued three dangerous dog citations and 15 warnings, Assistant City Planner Marty Schultz told the council. "It's not an epidemic but it does pop up from time to time," he said.

When it first considered the amendment at its last meeting, the council wondered if the city should even allow residents to own a "dangerous" dog. In an e-mail to the council, Jacobson said that the city is required to, as long as the owner follows local ordinances and state laws.

However, when owners realize the ongoing risk of owning such a dog and the expense of registering it, paying for the microchipping and providing proof of insurance of at least $300,000 to compensate anyone who is injured by the dog - which are state and city requirements, Jacobson expects most will choose to euthanize the dogs.

Under state law, "dangerous dog" means any dog that has without provocation, inflicted substantial bodily harm on a human being on public or private property; killed a domestic animal while off the owner's property; or has been found to be potentially dangerous yet continues to aggressively bite, attack, or endanger the safety of humans or domestic animals.

A "potentially dangerous dog" is defined as a dog that when unprovoked, inflicts bites on a human or domestic animal on public or private property; chases or approaches a person, including a person on a bicycle, upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public or private property, other than the dog owner's property; or has a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, causing injury or otherwise threatening the safety of humans or domestic animals.

There are some exceptions. Dogs aren't declared dangerous if the person they hurt was trespassing, committing a crime, or has a past history of provoking, tormenting, abusing or assaulting the dog.

Under existing city ordinances, law enforcement has the authority to kill a dangerous dog. City code states, "When an officer has reasonable cause to believe that a particular animal presents a clear and immediate danger to residents because it is infected with rabies or because of a clearly demonstrated vicious nature, the officer, after making reasonable attempts to impound such an animal, may summarily destroy said animal."