Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

TOP STORY >> City plans to get tougher on dogs rather than ban

Leader staff writer

Even though a petition with 170 signatures to ban pit bulls was presented to Jacksonville’s dog ordinance committee Monday night, the group decided not to ban any specific breed of dog just yet.

Instead, the group of city officials, dog lovers and citizens focused on what residents need to do if they decide to keep a vicious dog in the city.

“We want to make it cost-prohibitive for many of these people and at the same time ensure the public’s safety,” said the committee chairman, Alderman Gary Fletcher.

Using an ordinance from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Govern-ments as a model, the group decided that once a dog is deemed vicious, the owner must keep the dog in a chain-link pen or run that provides the dog with at least 50-square-feet of living space.

The fenced-in area must be topped so the dog cannot jump or climb over and no one can climb in.
The run must also have a concrete floor to prevent the dog from digging out, and the owner must provide adequate shelter, water and food.

Any dog that bites or attacks twice runs the risk of being euthanized.
“We ask the judge now on second offenses for an order to euthanize the dog and he is pretty good about granting the order,” said Public Works Director Jim Oakley.

The committee further decided that any enclosure for a vicious animal must be locked with a padlock and have signs posted.

When the dog is being walked in public it must be muzzled, on a proper leash and be walked by a responsible adult.

The committee also looked at increasing fines and even adding jail time to residents who continually breed or maintain vicious dogs.

Fletcher was worried that some of the suggested penalties might be infringing on the dog owners’ right, but Alderman Emma Knight said that the type of people the ordinance is going after “need their rights violated just a little bit.”

“We’ve got to address the people,” she said, “or they’ll just go down to Republican Road and get another dog.”
The Washington ordinance puts troubled dogs into two categories: dangerous and potentially dangerous.
A dangerous dog is any dog that causes serious injury to a person or domestic animal or has been designated as potentially dangerous and engages in behavior that poses a threat to public safety.

A potentially dangerous dog is one that poses a threat to public safety by causing an injury to a person or domestic animal that is less severe than a serious injury, or without provocation, chases or menaces a person or domestic animal in an aggressive manner, or is found running loose and is impounded by the animal control officials three or more times during a year.
A woman whose Pomeranian was recently attacked by two pit bulls initiated the petition drive and presented it to the committee.

“We certainly understand and feel for her,” Fletcher said, but statistics show that pit bulls are only involved in 21 percent of fatal attacks.”

Fletcher told the committee that members made a lot of good progress on developing a comprehensive ordinance and that the city attorney would review some of the suggested penalties such as jail times of up to 90 days for people whose dogs constantly get into trouble.

Monday night’s meeting was the second one for the committee which was formed at the request of the city council after aldermen received a number of complaints about not just pit bulls, but about vicious dog attacks and bites.

Since July 1, 16 bites have been reported to animal shelter officials. Eleven of those involved dogs, pit bulls to a Lhasa apso, four bites were from cats and one from an iguana.
The committee will meet again Monday, Sept. 19, at city hall.