Athens’ “bad dog” ordinance apparently doesn’t go far enough.

Councilman Ronnie Marks says that some dog owners in his district are creating makeshift kennels for large, vicious breeds, by fencing in carports, which is not adequate.

“I want to introduce an amendment to our ordinance at our next meeting,” Marks said. “In my district, we have a Rottweiler and two pit bulldogs penned on a carport. They got out recently and just about ate up a little dog on a leash. There was a huge vet bill. The owner willingly offered to pay the bill.

“But I want an ordinance that says you cannot have a kennel inside an open carport, that a carport shall not be used as an enclosure for keeping dogs.”

The city ordinance on vicious dogs is vague, at best. Sec. 10-5, titled “Keeping of wild animals or vicious animals prohibited,” states: “(a) No person shall keep or permit to be kept on his premises any wild animal for display or for exhibition purposes, whether gratuitously or for a fee. This section shall not be construed to apply to performing animal exhibitions or circuses. (b) No person shall keep or permit to be kept any wild animal as a pet.”

Widespread concern

Code Enforcement Officer Ron Ultz, who for many years served as Athens’ animal control officer, says, “A lot of the city is concerned about this.”

“There are a lot of pit breeds out there, a lot of dangerous dogs,” Ultz said. “It seems these days a pit bulldog is the young people’s weapon of choice. We’ve been lucky we haven’t had a major incident. When you have such an animal confined in just a carport or tied on a chain to a doghouse, that’s just a plan for disaster.

“It might be okay for 10 years, 20 years, but if something happens, it could be deadly.”

Ultz said strengthening confinement laws is “kind of like preventive medicine.”

“It’s better to do what we can before disaster than after,” said Ultz.

Attorney Kenneth Phillips of Los Angeles, who is a frequent commentator on national news shows and who maintains the Web site,, says, there is a “dog bite epidemic in the United States.”

“While pit bulls and Rottweilers inflict a disproportionate number of serious and even fatal injuries, the dog bite epidemic involves many different breeds, and results from many different causes,” writes Phillips. “A clear distinction needs to be made between canine homicides—i.e., incidents in which dogs kill people—and the dog bite epidemic.”

By the numbers

Phillips draws from statistical data published by the Centers for Disease Control and the Journal of the American Medical Association as well as leading researchers in animal behavior to keep his Web site updated daily. This is some of the facts posted by Phillips:

• A CDC survey shows that dogs bite 4.7 million people annually—nearly 2 percent of the population—in the U.S.; 800,000 require medical attention.

• The average yearly fatal dog attacks in the 1980s and 1990s was 17, but in 2007 there were 31 fatal dog maulings in 15 states of the U.S., two of which were in Alabama. Texas led with eight.

• According to a study by Merrit Clifton, editor of Animal People, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes are responsible for 74 percent of attacks; 68 percent of the attacks on children; 82 percent of the attacks on adults; 65 percent of the deaths and 68 percent of the maiming.

• Dog attack victims suffer more than $1 billion in losses every year.

Athens-Limestone Hospital spokeswoman Barbara Ferguson said that 59 people were treated for dog bites in the emergency room in 2007.

Limestone County Department of Health Environmental Health Supervisor Bob Smith aid 124 animal bites were reported to his department in 2007.

“Of those, 24 were cat bites, three squirrels, one rat and the rest were dogs,” said Smith. “Very few of these reports come from the city, where they have a leash law. Most come from the county.”

Police Chief Wayne Harper said his officers investigated just two dog bite incidents in Athens in 2007.

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