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LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Ala. — When driving around rural communities, it may be a common sight to see dogs running around freely, but for pet owners, not only is that against the law in Lauderdale County, it also poses a safety threat to the pet and the public.

In 2018, an Alabama law was passed that allows authorities to euthanize a dog that seriously injures or kills a person. The law also creates the possibility of felony penalties against the pet owner.

The law is called Emily’s Law, in memory of Emily Colvin who was killed by dogs outside her home in Jackson County in 2017.

In The Shoals, Florence-Lauderdale Animal Services Director Cheryl Jones said pet owners have a responsibility that can help prevent tragedies like with Colvin.

“I know everyone loves to let their dogs run loose in the county, but really, there’s so many factors that come into play—kids grabbing dogs, dogs chasing because someone’s running, females in heat will tend to make un-neutered males more aggressive, and it’s just a recipe for disaster,” Jones said.

On top of that, Lauderdale County already has a leash law that states dogs should be in an enclosed area or under the control of the owner if not.

“We would just love if there could never be a dog bite or a dog attack that the person has to go to court and have their dogs taken from them,” Jones said. “That only happens if you keep your dogs under your control. If you know that your dog doesn’t like strangers, which a lot of people like because they want a guard dog, but then you also have to realize that if somebody comes up and poses a threat, the dog is going to react.”

In cases where a stranger may wander onto a person’s property and is attacked, Jones said “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs can make all the difference.

Jones said if a dog is allowed to roam freely and it bites someone, Emily’s Law rates the injury by severity to determine if the dog will be seized or euthanized.