Attack by 2 dogs on child creates county debate

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 8/15/18

Although Bradley County does not have a leash law on the books, a statewide leash law is in effect here. “According to Tennessee law, a dog may remain unleashed as long as it remains on the owner's property,” said Brian Graves, public information officer for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.

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Attack by 2 dogs on child creates county debate

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Although Bradley County does not have a leash law on the books, a statewide leash law is in effect here.

“According to Tennessee law, a dog may remain unleashed as long as it remains on the owner's property,” said Brian Graves, public information officer for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.

Graves said calls regarding alleged leash law violations are handled “like any other” violation call: If a call comes in, officers arrive on the scene to evaluate the situation and determine if there has been a law broken, and take appropriate action.  

A pet owner faces the following charges if the leash law is violated:

• Class C misdemeanor if the loose dog causes no damage.

• Class A misdemeanor if the loose dog causes property damage.

• Class E felony if the loose dog causes bodily injury.

• Class D felony is the loose dog causes "serious" bodily injury.

• Class C felony if the loose dog causes a death.

“There are exceptions such as if it is shown the dog was trying to protect its owner,” Graves said, adding county officers have the ability to call the SPCA of Bradley County should they see the necessity to control or remove the dog.

The Bradley County Commission discussed the statewide leash law during a meeting last week, responding to residents of Virgil Rymer Road. Commissioner Howard Thompson said some of his constituents said two dogs got loose and bit a youngster; he added Tennessee has a leash law and people need to know that.

Thompson said Bradley County doesn’t have stray animal pickup in the county, but animals can be brought to the shelter.

“The people need to know they can protect themselves,” Thompson said, adding it is a shame for people to be attacked by dogs whose owners are in violation of the leash law.

“I don’t think people realize how serious that leash law is,” Commissioner Mike Hughes said.

Michael Truelove, a resident on Virgil Rymer Road, thanked Thompson for bringing up the concern about the leash law. Truelove said he and his neighbor made several telephone calls to E-911 because of concerns about dogs running loose. He is now concerned because one of the dogs involved in an attack earlier this summer was allegedly hidden in the house by its owner.

“It’s just going to be a matter of time before a person is hurt again,” Truelove said.

Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber said he will take up the issue with both the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff-Elect Steve Lawson in his capacity as the Commission’s Law Enforcement Committee chairman. He added that Bradley County has animal housing but no pickup.

During this week's Commission work session, Yarber added Lawson told him he intends to meet with law enforcement, SPCA of Bradley County, County Attorney Crystal Freiberg and the 10th Judicial District Attorney General's office "to make sure there's a clear understanding of process."

Last week, Commissioner Dan Rawls said for 3 1/2 years he has been going after the sheriff’s office to do its due diligence in regard to the leash law. “This clearly lays right on the doorstep of the sheriff’s [office],” Rawls said.

Truelove said he used to work with emergency medical services and still listens to his emergency scanner. He claims to have heard law enforcement officials say over the scanner that they have made contact with the dog owner but he saw them just drive by without stopping. He added he has tried to speak with the sheriff, “yet I always get diverted each and every time I go.”

Truelove said he and some of his neighbors feel like because they live “on the edge of the county,” no one cares what happens there.

Commissioner Bill Winters said he believes all the county commissioners care about the situation but the responsibility falls to the neighbors “besides law enforcement” to be vigilant. He added that neighborhood children should be safe when they go outside to play.

Rawls asked about the second dog, the one that Truelove alleges the owner took inside the house. Truelove said that dog was part of the attack.

“That dog needs to be removed immediately,” Rawls said. “You call me and we’ll act on this.”

Walter Truelove, another resident on Virgil Rymer Road, said he witnessed the dog attack and claims officers told him they could not remove a dog unless they saw it for themselves. He said there are photos of dogs running at large in his neighborhood, but the officers couldn’t act on that evidence.

Earlier this year, as part of National Dog Bite Prevention Week (April 8- 14), the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance reminded Tennessee homeowners to take leash laws and education seriously in order to help reduce liabilities and dangerous encounters with pets.

According to TDCI, last year 314 dog bite claims were filed in Tennessee with a value at $11 million with the average cost per claim at $35,029, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Tennessee ranks No. 22 in the nation for dog-bite claims. In 2016, $9.4 million was paid out on around 300 claims on dog bites.

“Dog bite risk is one that, unlike weather risks such as tornadoes or hail, the homeowner maintains an element of control over,” TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak noted in an April news release. “We strongly encourage dog-loving Tennesseans to take good care of their pets and observe leash laws to protect themselves, their neighbors, their postal workers, and, of course, their canine companions.”


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