The Anne Arundel County Council last night approved a bill that would allow the county animal shelter to set up a program to spay or neuter all animals up for adoption.
The council heard testimony but postponed action on a proposed measure that would make it easier for an animal to be declared vicious.
That measure would amend the county code to broaden the category of a "vicious" animal to include any animal that has caused one serious injury -- such as breaking bones or mauling a person -- or three minor injuries or has been the subject of three complaints.
The previous law limited the designation of "vicious" animal only to dogs.
In addition, under current law, an animal has to have hurt someone in a prior incident to be labeled "vicious" after a second incident. In the proposed measure, that requirement would be stricken.
Victor Sulin, who heads code enforcement in the Department of Planning and Code Enforcement, said that animal control officials have been seeking the changes since a child was mauled by a dog in south county several years ago.
He recalled that "because of the word 'prior' [in the old law], we couldn't take any action to declare that dog a vicious animal."
Tahira S. Williams, administrator of the Animal Control office, said that an animal does not necessarily have to attack a person to be classified as vicious, but merely has to be the cause of injury.
She noted the case several months ago of a postman who had an encounter with a dog while delivering mail.
"He did not make contact with the postman, but the postman broke a leg in trying to flee the animal," she said. The animal was declared vicious.
When an animal is determined to be vicious, the owner receives a citation. Penalties range from fines to seizure of the animal.
Several council members expressed concern that the proposed measure would affect owners whose pets bit someone who entered fenced-in, private property.
"A dog, if he is a good dog, is going to protect that property," said Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat who said she has been bitten three times by dogs, but does not feel that "the dogs were vicious.
"There are many, many people who have animals to protect themselves," Ms. Lamb said.
"I'd like to see some way to allow for that."
But County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. tried to assure the council that the proposed measure, like the current one, pertains only to someone walking on a public thoroughfare.
"This is not going to be triggered by a dog attacking someone on private property," he said.
But the council was not persuaded and postponed action on the measure so that the legal implications could be clarified.