If residents see dogs loose in their neighborhoods, they should call animal control indicating whether the dog is vicious or just a nuisance, according to city and county animal control personnel.

Cullman County Animal Control Division Director Tim McKoy said the county has a leash law.

“If someone is violating that, they can be arrested for it,” he said. “They can be and will be if they don’t comply with us.”

Officers can also write citations.

Fines can be as much as $330, he said. If it goes to court, costs will be a lot higher.

“Once a complaint has been filed through our division, the complaint is sent to the animal control officer who works that section,” said McKoy.

Whether it is in the city or county, officers have to see the dogs running loose.

“If we see a violation, then we can act on it,” said McKoy. “It’s a class 3 misdemeanor.”

If the officer decides the dog is vicious, it will be picked up and taken to the shelter.

“Every year there are canine fatalities in the United States,” McKoy said.

He said pit bulls, German shepherds and Rottweilers cause the most deaths.

“A lot of times, insurance companies will drop your insurance because they are considered dangerous animals,” he said.

The city defines a dangerous or vicious animal as any animal that wounds or kills any person or domestic animal or that attacks any person without being provoked.

Cullman Police Department Animal Control Officer Banister said residents with a potentially dangerous animal or a vicious animal must carry $100,000 liability insurance that covers animal bites or injuries caused by an animal.

Banister said the Alabama Supreme Court in 2002 ruled “one breed of dog is no more dangerous than any other.”

The case centered on four pit bull puppies seized along with more than 50 pit bulls used in a dog-fighting ring in Huntsville. The puppies were put in the city pound and put up for adoption.

Shelia Tack, an emergency room nurse at Crestwood Hospital, adopted two of the puppies naming one Justice and the other Elizabeth, according to the Web site www.angelfire.com. The other puppies were adopted by Kay Nagel, a military officer’s wife and resident of Redstone Arsenal, and Loyce Fisher, a civil service worker from Cullman.

The city council refused to release the puppies claiming the dogs were a potential danger to human beings.

The case went to court, and the judge ruled the dogs were not dangerous because the pit bulls had not been trained to fight.

The city of Huntsville appealed and lost the case.

The county reports 86 animal bites since January. Of those, four were from pit bulls and five from bulldogs.

Dog bite incidents for children go up markedly when school is out.

“We are in July and already have 13 bites reported,” said McKoy.

McKoy says parents should teach children not to approach stray animals. Cats, dogs, bats, a goat, a horse and a chipmunk have bitten people this year.

“Children should never go up to a stray dog,” said McKoy. “If you have a stray animal, it needs to be reported as soon as possible. Don’t wait two weeks.”

McKoy gave tips on how to respond to an aggressive animal.

He said to be aware of your surroundings.

“Do not let a dog sneak up on you and never run from a dog,” he said.

He said there is some truth to the saying not to stare at a dog.

“Making visual contact with a canine could be perceived as a challenge to become more aggressive,” he said.

A dog’s natural instinct is to chase prey.

“If you run, you become prey,” he said.

McKoy did suggest giving stern verbal commands to the dog.

“The dog needs to read you as more dominant,” he said. “If it perceives a fear, the individual might become injured or hurt.”

In June, the county received more than 500 complaints of dogs running loose.

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