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Commissioners approve changes to Animal Control Code

Thursday, December 9, 2021 - 3:00pm

Douglas County Commissioners approved changes to the Douglas County Animal Control Code on Dec. 1, 2021, during their business meeting. The Lawrence Humane Society proposed the changes to update the code with more clear, consistent and enforceable language. The nonprofit agency said the updated code provides more clear and humane procedures regarding animals in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The Lawrence Humane Society is working closely with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and County Counsel to ensure a smooth transition to implementation of new dispatching, enforcement and administrative hearings for violations under the new code. The Lawrence Humane Society has been working on the code changes for a couple of years and provided a presentation during a March 2021 Commission meeting.

The code changes include the following:

Adding a "definitions" section. Chapter 2 (Animal Control) had no definitions section. Instead, each article had its own definitions. As a result, there were inconsistencies throughout the chapter. Having one definitions section that applies to each article is more consistent with legislative writing and leaves no questions as to what words mean throughout the chapter.

Revising the Article titles in a more concise order. There were two separate articles dealing with animal behavior and their penalties. For example, exotic animals were grouped with dangerous dogs; and vicious dogs had a completely separate article. This could lead to confusion among those involved in animal-related incidents. The new order is:

Article 1. Definitions

Article 2. Impoundment, Enforcement, and Kennels

Article 3. Exotic animals

Article 4. Nuisance Animals and Dangerous Animals

Article 5. Vicious Animals

Article 6. Reckless Pet Owners

Combining "impoundment" sections. The language could be found in multiple sections of chapter 2. Combining these sections in one place makes it easier to understand. It also contains enhancement of penalties for repeat offenders.

Combining "nuisance" animal language. This language can be found in multiple sections of the chapter. Combining these nuisance actions into one place makes it easier to understand. Research shows enhancement of penalties for repeat offenders is most appropriate for nuisance behavior to prevent further problem behavior.

Repealing "Dangerous Dog" definition. Replacing the definition with a better defined action and behavior performed by the dog. Removed speculative language like "propensity" and "tendency."

Repealing Article 5 "Vicious Dogs." Replace the definition with better defined terms that include actual behavior that requires immediate removal or euthanasia of the animal. The original intent of Article 5 was to lessen the likelihood of injury by labeling dogs "vicious" and prohibiting them from the county based on "size, build, or bite strength." These are vague terms and could reasonably include any dog over 25 pounds. The new nuisance language targets the behavior intended that could lead to an actual bite. The new language creates a no tolerance policy for dogs that cause severe injury to any person.

Adding "Reckless Pet Owner" section. This will ensure the addressing and tracking of animal owners who are endangering the welfare of the community.

If you have questions about the proposed changes, please contact Katie Barnett, Animal Welfare Counsel for the Lawrence Humane Society, at or 785-856-0955.

FAQs about updating the Animal Control Chapter

Q: Why change the nuisance animal language?

A: Currently, the nuisance animal language has language that is similar in other sections of the code. The purpose of the new language is to identify and target nuisance behavior by the animal and problematic management by the owner. These behaviors by animals and their owners include causing property damage, running off the owner's the owner's property, causing injury to another domestic animal or livestock, or putting a person in fear by jumping, threatening, chasing, barking, or biting at a person while the animal is off the owner's property.

Q: Does this mean there is a leash law in the county?

A: No. The new language is compliance-based and makes it unlawful for an owner to allow an animal to run loose on another person's property or in the road (public right-of-way). This does not mean an animal must be leashed at all times OR that you need to have a physical fence on the property. However, the county should be a safe place for everyone and we should respect the freedoms we enjoy by not living within city limits. Trespassing animals who intrude on those freedoms should be regulated.

Q: My neighbor’s dog is always running loose. It has been picked up by law enforcement multiple times. What can be done?

A: "Nuisance Animal" is defined as any animal who violates the code three times in any 24-month period. Any person owning, caring for, or has custody of a "nuisance animal" should not allow that animal to go unconfined beyond the premises of their property unless said animal is securely leashed, muzzled, or securely restrained. Failure to adhere to the above requirements is in violation of the Chapter. Any person convicted of a violation of the Douglas County code three or more times in a 24-month period will be declared a reckless pet owner.

Q: On my evening walks with my dog, we encounter a dog that charges and chases us on the county road, but has never bit me or my dog. What can be done?

A: You may report this animal and sign a complaint against the owner of the animal to an enforcement officer. If the owner is found to be in violation, the owner must keep the dog according to the requirements found in subsection 2-405(c). They should not allow that animal to go unconfined beyond the premises of their property unless said animal is securely leashed, muzzled, or securely restrained. If the animal continues to go unrestrained, you may again call the enforcement officer and sign a complaint.

Q: Aren’t dogs connected to dog fighting inherently dangerous or vicious and cannot be rehabilitated?

A: Many dogs seized in dog fighting cases never fought other dogs. The current language in the Douglas County code labels victims of dog fighting as inherently dangerous. It is an outdated practice that punishes the victim of animal cruelty and prevents the evaluation of the animal and doesn't allow for law enforcement and animal welfare organizations to seek new homes for the animals. Kansas State Statute does not label victims of animal cruelty or animal fighting as inherently dangerous. The state statute also includes specific provisions for the evaluation and disposition of animals seized in these cases.

Q: If this section is repealed, what will happen to the dogs who are seized in the connection of dog fighting?

A: If the county seizes any dogs in connection to dog fighting, those dogs will undergo behavior evaluations to determine if each individual dog can live safely in a community. As a result of the evaluation, the dog is likely to be adopted, transferred to an animal welfare organization, or euthanized.

Q: Why revise the dangerous and vicious animal sections?

A: The current language of "dangerous" and "vicious" animals exist in two separate articles of the chapter and have caused confusion for residents and enforcement officers. Both include behavior by an animal that causes injury, as well as definitions, procedures, and disposition of the animal that vary between the definitions. Distinguishing these Articles helps the public and enforcement officers better understand the behavior prohibited under each definition or label. It also clarifies the escalating penalties attached to each offense.

Q: My sister was attacked by my neighbor’s dogs who ran onto our property. She had to be hospitalized with a broken arm and stitches. Can these dogs go back to their owner?

A: The dogs may be determined by the court as "vicious." It is unlawful to keep or possess a vicious animal within the county. A vicious animal does not include an animal that has caused serious injury to any person while that person was committing a criminal offense, or willfully trespassed on the property of the owner or keeper of the animal. If the animal is convicted, the court shall order that the animal be removed from the county or humanely euthanized.

Q: There is a dog in my neighborhood that is a “dangerous animal” because it bit a child, but it still wanders into our yard. What can be done?

A: It is unlawful for the owner or keeper of an animal deemed to be a "dangerous animal" to fail to comply with the requirements and conditions listed in subsection 2-406(g). Any animal found to be in violation shall be subject to immediate seizure and impoundment. In addition, failure to comply with the provisions is considered to be a separate offense to the owner. If you find your neighbor does not keep the dangerous dog under the conditions listed, the court may order the immediate removal of the animal from the county or humanely euthanized.

Q: I was bit by a dog and now that dog is considered a “dangerous dog” by the court. What happens now?

A: Upon the conviction of keeping a dangerous animal, once the animal is returned to its owner, the animal must be kept restrained including leashing and muzzling when outside of the dog’s home, kept in a secure enclosure, spayed/neutered, licensed, and should be sent to a mandatory training class.

Q: Why should we repeal the code provisions that help us label vicious dogs?

A: Although the adoption of this subsection was well intended, the language of those provisions are so broad and unclear that is causes more harm than good. Currently, the section allows the County to label and ban any dog that has a "disposition and physical attributes, such as size, build, or bite strength to inflict severe injury to a human being" as being vicious.

What sort of "physical attributes," "disposition," or "propensity[ies]" make a dog so vicious that it must be prohibited? Under the current language of the code, the fact that a dog is a large breed and aggressively barks at the mailman could be prohibited from the county because it possesses a combination of physical attributes and aggressiveness. Because the code is so broad, any dog can be labeled vicious. This make the language in the code over-inclusive and subjective, which may result in these codes being unenforceable. Being able to label any dog as vicious is problematic for the following reasons:

  • The county should only label dogs "vicious" based on defined behavior, not physical attributes. The current Code prohibits some dogs simply for their physical appearance, feature, and/or history, without evaluating the dog for actual danger.
  • The county should always strive to have clear laws that outline specific conduct (or behaviors) that are prohibited. The Code is so unclear that authorities will have the discretion to apply the law as they personally see fit. This can lead to unfair and unpredictable application of the law and equal protection issues.

Q: Does the code still have provisions to deal with vicious dogs?

A: Yes. The elimination of the current "vicious dog" definition does not mean the county will not be able to label dogs as vicious. The new language outlines a vicious animal as one who causes great bodily harm, disfigurement, or death to any person, and upon conviction the dog must be removed from the county or be humanely euthanized. This means that the county can still determine a dog is vicious when it actually acts in a vicious manner. Not simply having a "look" that could make it potentially vicious.