Bedford County Animal Control officers should have more authority so they can enforce existing state laws, according to discussion among members of a study group established by the county commission's law enforcement committee.
While it's been suggested that animal control officers be made reserve deputies, Animal Control Director Michael Gregory does not want his department to become a part of the sheriff's department.
However, discussion implied that animal control officers may need the power to issue citations to take people to court when it's alleged they violated the law.
The Bedford County Animal Control Study Committee met Tuesday at the offices of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. The organizational session did not result in election of officers, or selection of an other meeting date.
However, a recognition of consensus and general agreement that Gregory should report something to the law enforcement committee might prove to be a feasible way for the committee to act, said Larry Lowman, chief administrator of the sheriff's department.
How animal control officers might become deputies in an office that Gregory says needs reorganization was unresolved during the panel's first meeting that included discussion with Tracy Hill, director of Rutherford County PAWS (Pet Adoption and Welfare Services).
"It's important that your officers are able to enforce the law," Hill told the committee, which received copies of her department's regulations, state laws and the laws enforced in Knox County.
Rutherford and Knox counties have defined vicious and dangerous dogs to deal with issues that prompted county commissioners on the law enforcement committee here to create the study committee so they may get a recommendation on what to do.
Control measures are increased for dogs declared dangerous or vicious, according to Rutherford County's regulations provided to Bedford County's study committee.
Regulations that address the responsibility of a dog's owner and not the dog were endorsed by Hill who spoke against so-called breed-specific laws.
Attention to animal control grew in Bedford County in early November when a grandmother in Shelbyville was mauled by a pair of pit bull dogs when she tried to protect her schnauzer. That led to the suggestion that the city ban ownership of pit bull dogs. City officials have been studying that idea and others on what's done elsewhere to protect people from vicious dogs.
Taking steps to prevent dog bites is better than reacting to complaints, but proactive measures endorsed by Hill include checking to see if dogs have rabies shots.
Gregory said his office is receiving "numerous calls" from people who complain, but officers can't take action against what they haven't seen and neighbors are reluctant to swear out a warrant against their neighbors.
Other law enforcement officers have refrained from getting arrest warrants from a judicial commissioner if they've not seen a crime, so it remained unclear exactly what the study committee might recommend.
More deputies are needed in the sheriff's department, Lowman said, endorsing the idea that animal control officers be empowered to take more steps toward enforcement of state laws to control dogs.
Diane Forbes, vice president of the Shelbyville-Bedford County Humane Association, agreed with Lowman about authority for the animal control officers.
Greater attention to animal control issues will be important, she said, noting Rutherford County's program had to grow as its population grew rapidly.
"I think Bedford County will have to as well," Forbes said. "It's all going to be a growing process."