No containment law in Blount County

Shelter volunteer Andrea plays with August at the Animal Adoption Center of Blount County. Photo by Kristin Yarbrough.
If Blount County adopted Alabama’s dog containment law, dog owners would be required to confine or supervise their dogs at all times. Above, shelter volunteer Andrea plays with August at the Animal Adoption Center of Blount County.

what is the containment law?

Alabama’s containment statute, §3-1-5, requires that dogs be confined or under the supervision of the owner at all times. An exception is made for working agriculture and hunting dogs. Though commonly referred to by the misnomer of “leash law,” Alabama’s law does not stipulate leashes.

This statute is applicable only in the counties in which it has been adopted. The Blount County Commission has not adopted Alabama’s dog containment law, so dogs can run free on Pine Mountain and elsewhere in the county, except where a local law applies.

containment: good for dogs, good for people

The containment of all dogs within a fence or house would be a beneficial change for most dogs and most residents of Blount County.

  • Containment discourages unwelcomed encounters between dogs, people, and other animals. Contained dogs cannot wander into neighbor's yards, cannot act aggressively on public roads or at mailboxes, and cannot harm other neighborhood pets or wildlife.
  • Containment keeps dogs out of the road, protecting dogs and drivers. A contained dog cannot lay on the road, chase cars, cause accidents, or threaten residents utilizing the road for exercise and enjoyment.
  • Containment keeps dogs away from other dogs, preventing fights and mating. Containment could reduce the number of litters, thus also reducing the number of puppies dumped at houses and businesses and relinquished at the shelter.
  • Containment reduces the number of lost dogs since dogs would have to escape the fence, kennel, tether, or house. This reduction in lost dogs would thus also reduce the number of dogs killed by cars, other dogs, other animals, the animal shelter, and humans who legally or criminally harm or kill wandering dogs.
  • Containment limits the county's vulnerability to failure-to-protect lawsuits for wrongful death or harm caused by dogs running at large.

Furthermore, containment reflects the evolving views of Blount County residents who, anecdotally at least, increasingly prefer to call animal control when they encounter issues with neighborhood dogs or dogs disturbing farm animals.

humane containment

Whether or not a dog is contained, daily socialization with humans is essential. While an uncontained dog might visit friendly neighbors, might drink from a stream, might forage or be given food by others, and might find shelter away from his owner's property, a dog who is contained relies solely on his owner for interaction, shelter (including protection from sun, rain, and cold), water, and food. Although neglect is already a criminal offense, attending to a dog's basic needs is all the more critical when he has no way to help himself.

Denial of any of these needs is inhumane, endangers the dog's life and quality of life, and can also cause a dog to become increasingly fearful and/or aggressive due to isolation. A fearful dog is more likely to growl or even bite, and a dog that growls or bites is at high risk of being killed, whether by a resident protecting himself or others or as mandated by dangerous dog law.

The method of containment also ranges in its appropriateness. For some dogs, the ideal containment is in the family home. Large kennels and tall fences (with barriers to prevent digging) can be safe and healthy outdoor spaces. Other methods, such as shock collaring, chaining, and tethering, have major disadvantages, including the potential for killing the dog such as when a tether gets tangled. Additionally, chained and tethered dogs become more defensive and aggressive — understandably, since their restraint prevents them from acting in natural ways around other animals or people.

The most troubling containment methods are also the quickest and least expensive to implement, suggesting that adoption of §3-1-5 would initially increase less-than-ideal situations for dogs. The county could facilitate an effective transition for dogs by offering documentation of effective and humane containment options and setting aside funds and equipment donations to ensure that all residents can keep their dogs and comply with the new law in a humane way.

to be addressed before implementation

  • Convenience killing at the county shelter. In 2023, according to shelter data, only 66% of the 1570 animals taken in by the shelter made it out alive. Enforcement of a county-wide containment law is quite likely to increase intake at a shelter that is already killing nearly a third of animals for space and other reasons of convenience. If our dog is picked up by animal control or brought to the shelter by a well-meaning neighbor, do we accept that our dog may be killed before we find out she is there? And for any dog, do we accept the killing that is done in our names and with our tax dollars? An average cost to "impound, hold, kill an animal, and dispose of the body is approximately $135 ($84 for impoundment and $51 for killing and disposal)," according to The No Kill Companion (Winograd, 2024), a cost that is largely unrecoverable.
  • Impacts on infrastructure. Adoption of the containment law would necessitate the resources to enforce the law. Currently, one animal control officer and one shelter serve the entire county. Increased staffing in animal control and at the shelter, and additional resources such as transport vehicles, shelter space, veterinary care, and spay/neuter availability would be required to carry out the containment law. County administration and courts would also be impacted, since violation of the law (were it to be adopted) is a misdemeanor.
  • Spotty awareness of and enforcement of cruelty law. Some Blount Countians mistakenly believe that they are entitled to harm or kill a wandering dog — even though doing so is actually a felony under Alabama Code §13A-11-14.1. A containment requirement could fuel the fire, leading residents to believe all the more that they have the right to shoot uncontained dogs. Also, is the county able and willing to protect dogs that may be adversely affected by compliance with containment law?

Whether containment law is adopted soon or some years in the future, residents always have the option of talking to our neighbors about concerns related to community pets and to report and follow-up on legal issues involving animals (such as cruelty or property damage), as the law already provides recourse for most issues.

local containment laws in blount county

Three Blount County jurisdictions have adopted a containment law:

The county's other local governments either do not have a containment law or do not make their laws available online.

credits

We thank Lori Howell and Aubrie Kavanaugh for sharing their insights and experience regarding the dog containment law.