Ware, Waycross Tighten Leash on Pets; ADDRESSING PROBLEMS the County Has OK'd an Animal-Control Law; the City Will Follow Early Next Month. ENFORCING RULES the New Laws Will Allow Animal Control Officers to Better Manage Complaints

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Byline: CAROLE HAWKINS

Ware County and Waycross commissioners have adopted animal control regulations that add animal cruelty provisions and clarify public safety and neglect rules that have not been widely followed.

And like some of the problem animals the regulations address, the jointly adopted ordinances will finally have some bite.

The laws will allow local animal control officers to better manage complaints, said County Commission Chairman Jimmy Brown. It's a job that, until a year ago, often fell to the Okefenokee Humane Society, which had no authority to enforce laws.

"We found out very quickly we had allowed our animal control to get way behind," Brown said. "We've made it our mission to get an organization together that would help manage animals that have gotten out of hand."

The Ware County Commission passed its new animal control ordinance April 12.

The Waycross City Commission unanimously voted for similar regulations April 20 in its first reading of the ordinance. The second reading is scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, after which the ordinance would become law in the city.

Mayor Clarence Billups said certain problems, such as pets that are not spayed or neutered, have become common in the city, and it's time to address them.

"We have a very large job ahead of us to educate the public," Billups said. "These animals did not just appear here. They are here because people did not do what they should have as responsible pet owners."

Local animal control officer Dennis Hagood said one new thing the ordinance deals with is animal cruelty. Some of the rules may be unfamiliar to people, but they already exist in state law, he said.

"For example, you can't just shoot a dog," said Hagood. "You have to have a good reason. It can't just be for trespassing or tearing up your newspaper."

One large enforcement problem Hagood faces is many owners do not get their pets vaccinated for rabies.

"Only a small percentage of people have them," he said.

That's a misdemeanor, by state law, said Hagood. The local ordinance will allow a judge to fine an owner up to $1,000 per day for violations.

Because Ware County has long been a mostly rural county, people often let their dogs run loose. Letting pets stray beyond an owner's property is just something that's been done for a long time, said Hagood, but it has caused problems.

"We've had areas in the county where animals were allowed to run around and they'd meet up with other dogs and have puppies," said Hagood. …