Martins Ferry police find themselves on the horns of a dangerous dilemma, involving a well-intentioned effort to safeguard the public from attacks by stray dogs.
Two years ago, the department spent about $1,000 to buy two small kennel cages for dogs. They were placed at the city water plant and are used for temporary confinement of dogs picked up by officers.
Police Chief John McFarland has said that though dealing with stray animals is not part of his department's normal duties, officers respond to such calls because the local animal shelter sometimes is not available.
But on Sunday, a dog escaped from the department's kennel and attacked a 4-year-old child. The boy had to be taken to a hospital for treatment of wounds on his face. His grandmother has said he will require plastic surgery.
After the attack, the dog was caught and returned to the police department kennel. The next day, it escaped again. Though police officers began searching immediately after being alerted, the animal went back to the scene of the attack. The victim's grandmother trapped it and called the animal shelter.
McFarland, who said he and his officers were "sick to our stomachs" about the attack, said the department will continue to respond to complaints about stray and/or vicious dogs.
His reaction was appropriate, of course. If police are the only reliable means of responding quickly to such calls, they should continue doing so.
At the same time, the kennel used to hold dogs picked up by officers must be made secure. If that requires spending money, so be it. Surely cages can be made escape-proof for a reasonable amount of money.
Martins Ferry police are providing an essential service. In all likelihood, they have prevented some dog attacks during the past two years. But clearly, more needs to be done to ensure that once animals that may be dangerous are picked up, they are held securely.