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Leash law approved

Suffolk City Council approved a leash law to go into effect in all areas of the city.

Pet owners now must keep their dogs on leashes throughout the city unless the dog is on the owner’s property, is hunting in approved areas or is being trained.

“We’re happy council has given our animal control officers tools that will promote responsible pet ownership,” Police Chief Thomas Bennett said after the meeting.

Under the proposed ordinance, animal control officers who catch dogs running at large can impound the dogs. Owners of licensed dogs will be notified of the impoundment, and will be subject to a fine. After a week, unlicensed dogs caught running at large could be euthanized, sold to a federal or state agency or delivered to a local humane society or shelter.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, a leash law was in effect in the greater downtown and northern portions of the city, as well as small swaths of Chuckatuck, Holland and Whaleyville. However, it was difficult to tell exactly where the law applied and where it did not, Bennett said.

“It’s kind of hard to see where the lines are, especially when you’re out in a field,” Bennett said.

Since the current leash law became effective in 1999, significant growth in the city resulted in a parallel growth in the pet population, Bennett said during the meeting. Animal control officers have received a corresponding increase in calls regarding dogs running at large and stray dog bites. Call for running at large from 2002 to 2008 averaged about 1,760 each year, Bennett said. The areas covered by the former leash law experienced a lower level of calls for dogs running at large and stray dog bites, indicating that a leash law would be effective throughout the city.

Neighboring jurisdictions including Franklin, Portsmouth and Chesapeake all have city-wide leash laws, Bennett added.

The measure was approved unanimously by City Council.