Stray dogs cause concern in townships

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 16, 2002

Stray dogs may not sound like a major problem in rural areas, compared to an urban area like Albert Lea.

Saturday, February 16, 2002

Stray dogs may not sound like a major problem in rural areas, compared to an urban area like Albert Lea. But when it occurs, rural residents have to wander a maze of legal obscurity to get things done.

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The topic of animal control was among the issues discussed by township officials gathered at the courthouse last Tuesday.

The county’s role in handling stray dogs is limited and ambiguous.

&uot;I called the law enforcement center. But I was told that they could not do anything unless the dog hurt somebody,&uot; one township official said.

Bob Kindler from the Sheriff’s Office pointed out the state statute does not empower law enforcement personnel to intervene unless the dog causes harm or damage.

State law stipulates, &uot;A dog that inflicted substantial or great bodily harm on a human being on public or private property without provocation may be destroyed in a proper and humane manner by the animal control authority.&uot;

It also reads, &uot;The animal control authority may not destroy the dog until the dog owner has had the opportunity for a hearing before an impartial decision maker.&uot;

In addition, state law has a clause to prevent stray dogs from harassing people, classifying as public nuisances any dog that continually bothers or chases people traveling on a public road.. But it involves a lengthy court process.

A person can file a complaint in writing to the county or the court, and a judge will issue a summons, if the owner is known, commanding the owner to appear in court to answer the complaint.

A local government may establish stricter animal control rules than the state statute. The City of Albert Lea, for example, has an ordinance that limits the maximum number of pets in a house to two dogs and two cats.

But, the county has not employed such an ordinance.

&uot;Enforcing the ordinance requires a huge cost. That comes back to tax bills,&uot; County Environmental Services Director Randy Tuchtenhagen said.

If the ordinance were enacted, the county would need to have an impounding facility, contract with dog catchers, and purchase special vehicles for transporting animals.

Instead of a county-wide ordinance, a rural community may enact a local ordinance by establishing a zoning district, Tuchtenhagen said.

Though the county has been discussing that option for years, townships are reluctant to bear the cost and responsibilities of administering the zoning districts, according to Tuchtenhagen.

County Commissioner Dan Belshan, who organized the Tuesday meeting, said he is open to exploring how the county could address the issue.

&uot;I don’t mean to implement a new program by spending a lot of money. But I feel there would be a way for the county to cooperate with existing systems such as the animal control authority of Albert Lea to deal with the situation,&uot; he said.