Hammond toughens  ‘vicious’ dog ordinances

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to strengthen municipal ordinances on the control of dogs deemed to be dangerous and vicious — a move prompted by an incident earlier this year in which a young girl was severely mauled by two dogs on the outskirts of the city.

In proposing the revised laws governing the control of dogs in the city, Councilman Lemar Marshall reminded council members that the rules were changed after careful study and consultation with animal rights groups and the city’s attorney. He said the new laws are based on experiences in other municipal entities in Louisiana.

City Attorney Andre Coudrain said one major change in the revised ordinance is requiring that an animal be declared dangerous and vicious by the Hammond City Court, and not by law enforcement officials making a judgment based on personal observation at to whether a dog was “dangerous and vicious.”

Such determinations caused confusion and difficulty in forcing control measures on dangerous animals, Coudrain said.

The ordinance is not breed or size specific. Marshall said during discussion that identifying certain animals as dangerous based on their breed alone have been challenged in many jurisdictions. Under the new law, a dangerous dog is defined as one that, when unprovoked on two separate occasions within a prior three-year period, engages in any behavior that required a person to take defensive action to prevent bodily injury.

Also, a dog can be determined to be dangerous if, when unprovoked, that animal bites a person, causes an injury or has killed, seriously bitten, inflicted injury to any domestic animal off the property of the owner of the dog. A “vicious dog” is defined as an animal which, unprovoked, inflicts serious bodily injury on a person or to a domestic animal off the property of the owner of the dog.

The lengthy ordinance specifies that the owner of a dog determined to be dangerous must be properly restrained or confined to the owner’s property. The ordinance states that it is unlawful for any person to own a dog judged to be vicious.

Marshall said law enforcement officers will have full authority to remove dangerous and vicious dogs.

The ordinance calls for a fine of up to $300 a day for violations.

Randy Stegall, president of the Tangipahoa Humane Society, praised the provisions in the new ordinance and commended council members and Coudrain for their care in drafting the rules. Stegall said that if a resident of Hammond wishes to own a dangerous dog then they will have to take full responsibility for the animal and restrain the animal in a proper way.

In other business Tuesday, Mayor Mayson Foster told the council that two capital outlay projects had been approved by the state Bond Commission recently and that work on both projects will move forward rapidly. A long-awaited control tower at Hammond’s Northshore Airport will be constructed with $750,000 from the state capital outlay budget and $880,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.

The commission also approved $600,000 for the city to acquire the old Hancock Bank Building in Historic Downtown Hammond, Foster said.

The building will serve as headquarters for the Hammond Police Department, which now have offices in several different buildings.

The council also authorized Foster to enter into an agreement on behalf of the city to form the South Tangipahoa Metropolitan Planning Organization. Foster said Hammond will join with Ponchatoula and the Tangipahoa Parish Council to form the MPO.

Following the 2010 census, the federal government determined that the two cities and parts of other communities in the area qualified as a metropolitan area rather than remaining a designated rural area. Foster said that the census for the area stands at 67,000 residents.

He said that the MPO will be responsible for long and short term planning, especially in the area of transportation. The mayor said that the region could receive many benefits from being designated as a metropolitan area and said that up to $2 million in federal money for roads alone could be realized. However, Foster cautioned that the planning organization will face several challenges in filing detailed reports required by the federal government.