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County considers dog bite policy for strays

Stray dogs are a problem in Wadena County, according to Carolyn Hartman, coordinator of the Wadena County Humane Society, and commissioners agreed to look into developing a policy to address the issue.

"I'm just concerned about what will happen in the future," Hartman said. "You people need to develop a policy here."

The issue came to light on Feb. 8 after a woman in the county was bitten by a stray dog, Hartman said. Hartman was in the Twin Cities at the time and instructed her son to quarantine the dog to see if the woman would need rabies shots. Usually an owner comes forward after a dog bite incident and they are able to quarantine the dog. But no owner emerged in this case, she said.

"The next incident, what's going to happen?" she asked. "In the past if we had a quarantine there's no accountability, no paperwork, nothing."

Right now, no one on the state or county level has the financial responsibility for dog bites and rabies testing for stray dogs, according to Karen Nelson, Wadena County Public Health Direcor.

"Then it winds up being a cost to the humane society," she said. "If no one will look for the stray dog and bring it in then the person who is bitten has the responsibility to get the rabies shots."

Otter Tail County has a delegation agreement with the Minnesota Department of Health and does the follow-up on dog bites, Nelson said.

Otter Tail County also has a levy that pays for taking animals in, Hartman said.

In a phone interview, Sheriff Mike Carr said his department doesn't have a policy of putting dogs into a pound.

When a dog bite occurs the department supplies a form for the person bitten to fill out. It also usually receives notification from a medical facility when a bite occurs in the county. That didn't happen in the case of the woman bitten on Feb. 8. The department also was not contacted by the woman who was bitten.

The sheriff's department is only responsible by statute for animals at large such as horses, cattle and fowl.

"We don't have a policy on dogs or cats," he said. "We don't have a pound."

Larger counties such as Crow Wing have animal control officers, but most counties in outstate Minnesota don't handle dog issues.

Wadena County did not have a lot of dog bites last year, he said. The department's records indicate there were eight dog bites during 2007. Cities and towns have more of a dog problem, he said.

Dog issues only make up a small portion of animal complaints for the county, Carr said. There were 127 animal complaints last year and the overwhelming majority of calls are about car accidents with deer and horses and cattle that got out of fenced areas.

"I don't foresee a dog problem in our county," he said. "If we have any problems it's with horse and cattle."