Fines unleashed: Albemarle criminalizes owners of roaming dogs

Albemarle holds its rural character dear, but anyone thinking about unleashing a bounding hound or letting Rover live up to his name may want to rethink the wisdom of such now-illegal actions. In June, the county started issuing criminal charges to the owners of dogs running loose off their property.

The county's residential areas already had a leash law, but in April the Board of Supervisors heard from elderly people allegedly terrorized by unruly curs when heading out to get the mail and from citizens who said they had to carry a big stick just to venture out the door. The Supervisors voted 5-1 to make this a class four misdemeanor in the rural areas, and a violation can bring a fine up to $250.

Supervisor Ann Mallek says she received "numerous" calls in the past year– she estimates around 30– from people claiming intimidation from free-range dogs and who found calling Animal Control offered little remedy.

"Elderly people can't get their mail because two 80-pound dogs can knock them down," says Mallek. "We don't want to wait until someone is killed."

The new ordinance took effect June 1. By the end of the following month, the county issued 16 summonses for dogs running at large, according to Albemarle police Sergeant Darrell Byers.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, Albemarle police logged 358 incidents of dogs running at large and 113 dog bites– although Byers cautions that many of the bites came from pets chomping on their owners.

Dogs engaged in hunting are exempt. Byers also points out that while it's popularly described as a leash law, dogs may still roam untethered when under their owner's voice control.

"It's when they go on the property of others," says Byers, who notes that citizens don't have to haul off the dogs themselves, but instead can call Animal Control officers, which will take errant canines to the SPCA. And any citizen who witnesses a roaming dog can also go to a magistrate and swear out a summons.

In late July, a pet Jack Russell terrier absconded from the electric-fenced yard of Bloomfield Road resident Charles Almy. Someone down the street reported it, and when Almy went to the SPCA to bail out Cheerio, he found himself with a summons.

Almy says he'd like to think a neighbor would give him a call if the dog got loose, but he confesses his phone number wasn't on the dog's collar. It is now.

"It prompted me to make sure the county license for each dog and the rabies shots for each dog were up to date," he adds.

While Almy lives on nine acres, he acknowledges that the county has grown to become less rural.

"It's a sign of the times– more people live in the county, and we've got to deal with each other," says Almy.

"I don't think the rural areas need a leash law," says Supervisor Rodney Thomas, who cast the only vote against the new ordinance, which he considers an unnecessary burden on citizens and officials– including the county's four Animal Control officers. "The majority of emails I got were against it."

Eastern Albemarle resident Janet Martin grounds her ordinance abhorrence in the land. She says dogs play a key role in rural life by protecting farm owners and controlling such agricultural pests as groundhogs, skunks, and deer.

"If a dog can't run on a farm," says Martin, "why have them?"

A former resident of New York City (who pities the plight of apartment-bound pooches), Martin says most of her Keswick-area neighbors have been understanding about any straying by her four German shorthaired pointers and one foxhound. But one relative newcomer has complained, so she's had to make adjustments.

"That's not in the spirit of the country," says Martin.

Supervisor Mallek, however, says she's gotten thanks from some of the formerly fearful citizens now strolling safely in the rural area and comforted by the idea they can pick up a phone to report neighbors who previously wouldn't control their dogs.

"They said it's so great they could call," says Mallek, adding that all enforcement is limited to following up complaints. "We are not dispatching the dog Gestapo."

Updated with hunting exemption.


Just curious -- what does this do to fox hunters? Or are the hounds deemed to be under voice control?

We hounds are running foxes and rabbits on private land where permission has been granted by the land owner. My owner, who can be a dullard at times, does understand this ordinance for what it is: that I can run free, happy, and leashless on my own land - or on the private land of someone else who's granted permission - without fear of landing in the pokey. Seems reasonable under the new ordinance that we're rolling the dice if I go off my property without a leash and ignore my person's hollers for me to return.

What often happens-if the dogs are a pest, neighbor tells neighbor, if your dogs run on my land, I am going to shoot them. And the dogs (innocents in the matter),do get shot.There begins a country feud and yes, our precious Albemarle Co not Hatflield-McCoy county (WVa).Gresham country!

I have not read the ordinance but I would like to see an ordinance where the fine is minimal if the dog is off the leash and obviously friendly, sort of like a parking ticket. (ie it makes no contact with people and doesn't bark at them,,,, you see it running through the yard) and then a larger fine of the dog runs up to people , and then still a larger fine if the dog runs up and barks or is "obviously intimidating". In this day and age of youtube and cell phone cameras video evidence could make sure that people who move to the country don't ruin a coexistence that woekd well for two hundred years. and people that have dogs they don't think can hurt somebody have a law they need to follow. The two problems for the government in this issue are the people who hate all dogs and don't mind wasitng precious taxpayer money and people who are irresponsible dog owners who allow untrained dogs out in the wild.

If the truth was to be known, Rodney Thomas was probably NOT the only supervisor who received e-mails mostly against the new law. But he was the only supervisor who voted for what his constituents requested of him.

Is this Martin person even paying attention? Of course a dog can run on a farm. It can run on its owners farm, it just does not have carte blanche to do whatever it wants everywhere it wants.

I'll bet Ms. Martin didn't let her dogs run loose in NYC! Too many people think "The spirit of the country" means "I just moved here and I'll do what I want, no matter what you have to change to accomodate me", in many cases accompanied by "I've got more money than you hicks around here so what I say is more important." The law (text and in person) won't fix the problem. My solution: if the dog trespasses, apply a BB gun to his butt to run him off. If he does any damage, shoot him. If the owner gives you any sh!t, 3 guesses what to do to the owner...

@seen it before: yeah, just shoot the innocent dog who doesn't comprehend that there are property lines and laws telling it to stay on its owner's land. inhumane response. vicious dogs that are a danger to society, sure, but lovable dogs roaming out in the country maybe chasing a squirrel or just checking things out, you're the animal if you shoot them.

Yea well, be happy you just get a fine, up hea in the north woods of Wisconsin, roaming dogs get a hot lead cocktail.

To Idiocy: your moniker is appropriate for you. You obviously don't get it-I said use a BB gun (temporarily painful but not permanently damaging) to run dogs off your property. Not every dog is happy-go-lucky, and your friendly little mutt at home may derive great enjoyment while out and about in running livestock and killing other peoples pets. I said if the dog was doing damage, shoot it. No, the dog does not know about property lines and laws, that is only an excuse owners and people like you use to justify not being responsible for their dogs. This is where the 3-guesses part comes in; Idiocy and a$$holery both deserve a high-velocity cure.

I am one of those people extremely grateful for this law. A neighbor's pit bull has terrorized my kids for years. We've tried dealing with the neighbor on many occasions. The police and animal control have been out several times, always "warning" the neighbor that something bad could happen if they didn't get their dog under control. We had no recourse while the dog took over the kiddy pool in the summer and terrorized visitors pulling into our driveway at night. This law is intended for folks who are unwilling to get their dogs under control any way short of a summons. I doubt many nice or non-vicious dogs are going to get fined under this new leash law.

PS-- If we'd had a gun, we'd have shot it-- but we don't want guns of any sort in the house with kids. Besides, what kind of message does that send to kids?

Can we also call when Mallek's cows are roaming the neighborhood and the road. 30 or 40 cows ought to make the county a nice sum, though they better bring a bigger truck.

YuMmmmm... 30 or 40 cows make a lot of steak!

Over the years I have had to kill a number of dogs creating problems for me and my animals and have had some unhappy neighbors over it and some have been outraged to find I was within my rights because the dogs were harassing livestock. A law making it less of an entitlement for people to let their dogs run free will help cut down on this sort of thing.

Thankful - The msg it sends your kids is "Your parents have victim mentaliy" There are plenty of safe ways to have guns and kids including securing firearms and teaching kids that are old enough and mature enough to handle firearms responsibly and only under adult supervision.

What ever became of the coyote problem in the Cville area I read about in the hook?
Now there's a roaming canine that makes fifi look insignificant.

The notion that dogs should be allowed to run at large on their neighbor's property, terrorizing people and livestock is ridiculous. In the past, people who let their dogs run loose had no idea what those dogs were doing once they were out of their sight. I've had animals killed by at-large dogs.

I'm no fan of more laws, but in the past, my only option was to go OK-Corral and shoot my neighbor's dogs. In rural communities you have to depend on your neighbors more so than you do in the city. Bad blood because of a dead dog works against that necessary reality.

I think the new law strikes a fair balance between allowing a certain amount of freedom for dogs, while punishing those shiftless, lazy, good for nothin' tornado-bait loosers who let their dogs run wild.

I'm not really keen on this new law - it is a sad reflection of the reality that Albemarle is no longer so truly rural in character.

I'm with Angel Eyes (which surprises me) on this: I well remember my grandfather shooting dogs that came onto our farm and harassed livestock - these were generally redneck hunters who thought they'd be cute about evading no-hunting signs and ran their dogs through the property to try to flush the deer back across the county road where the hunter could shoot without trespassing.

Yes, shooting dogs creates bad blood, but then it also underscores the dog owner's duty to maintain control over their own animal - it's personal responsibility writ large. Of course it's better to have the courts settle these disputes rather than having people "settle" it directly. And yes, I'm sorry, if your dog is in any way aggressive and you don't have it under control, then I don't feel the least bit "oh poor innocent dog" - and I am the happy owner of two dogs.

I believe the article said that you should call Animal Control, when you have a "problem dog" on your property. All of this talk about "shooting" the animal, seems a bit extreme and cruel, unless you are in imminent danger of bodily harm or the animal is threatening your livestock. Let Animal Control do it's job. If you need Animal Control to respond quickly and there is an immediate threat of harm from the dog(s), then explain that to Animal Control when you call.

If you are in an area where it is legal to discharge a firearm; perhaps a warning shot in the air will scare the dog(s) away, until Animal Control can arrive. It should be obvious if you are dealing with an aggressive dog or just possibly; someones family pet that has gotten loose and just wandered off.

Bringing guns into the situation, has the potential to do harm to more than just an aggressive dog. Never take a shot, unless you know exactly where that bullet is going to end up.

The problem with calling Animal Control is that they couldn't actually DO anything until this law was passed. Animal Control was limited to warning the owner and powerless to do anything until AFTER someone got hurt.

@ Interested citizen - you advocate shooting a warning shot into the air and not shooting unless you know exactly where that bullet is going to end up - see any contradiction?

I think all you dog shooters should read James Herriot's collection of dog stories.

@ Skin - I've read them and his other books as well. But I would shoot a dog if necessary. It was 1996 I think when we had several heavy snows in a row. I parked my truck out on a subdivision road and not 200 yds up my driveway which was much harder to negotiate with a lot of snow. I was up on the subdivsion road digging the truck out. My wife's 12-year-old border collie was with me. She had arthritis so bad she cried every time she went to lay down. Some neighbors had 3 dogs that ran the neighborhood as a pack. The alpha dog was a husky, #2 was a large boxer, and I don't remember what breed # 3 was. They had sent several dogs in the neighborhood and one from a neighboring farm to the vet with major injuries. One neighbor told me he spent $800 to get his retriever patched up. These dogs also were observed running livestock and on one occasion chasing a deer into a fence where it got caught and they tore it's front leg off before a neighbor returned with his rifle and they fled. The neighbor had to put the deer down. I knew all this when the neighbor and his 3 dogs approached me on the road. His dogs charged me and my wife's dog. My wife's dog got between me and them, They jumped her, mainly the husky but one of the others was on her too. The neighbor called to his dogs ineffectually. I hit the husky in the head with the heavy coal shovel I was using to clear snow. The first blow accomplished nothing. I put everything into the next swing and the husky went down, rolled on its back and had a seizure. The neighbor was screaming at me now. I told him take your dog to the vet. The husky got up after about 60 seconds and slinked away glancing back at me a couple of times. I did not intend to kill the husky, and I don't think it suffered and permanent damage (concussion, stitches to the top of the head). I swung the shovel because it was what I had in my hands when the dogs attacked. If I had the broom I brought with me in hand I probably would have swung that and my wife's dog would be hurt or dead. If I had my pistol in my belt instead of on the seat of the truck, the husky would have been dead, and if the second swing with the shovel hadn't ended the attack, I would have taken the time to retrieve the gun and use it without hesitation or regret. Aggressive dogs and irresponsible dog owners are a bad combination, and no one should expect that people will not go to the extreme to protect themselves, their families, their own pets, or horses or cattle on which their livelihood depends.

I'm with Wog. One dog running loose is a problem. Multiple dogs running loose is a pack, and a pack will display pack hunting behavior.

I had a pack of three dogs once, running loose in the neighborhood. Their leader was a pitbull mix who threatened my wife and daughters in our front yard. Had I been home, that pit would have been leaking lead. And Thankful is right. Up until now Animal Control couldn't do much unless the dogs attacked someone.

I don't know which is worse. Waiting for your children to be attacked so Animal control can do their job, or start slinging lead. This isn't the old west. I'd like to think we've moved beyond reaching for our guns to settle disputes.

You don't have to invoke this law against a neighbor, especially if they're responsive to friendly reminders and requests.

It just provides an additional option to be taken before the final option of shooting an out of control canine.