Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

TOP STORY >>Dog ban rejected in Ward

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Ward City Council decided Monday not to follow the trend of banning pit bulls as neighboring cities had, but instead voted to keep their animal ordinance, which includes a section on vicious/dangerous dogs.

Alderman Charles Gastineau made the motion to do away with the prepared ordinance banning specific breeds, saying the city didn’t need it.

“We have a dangerous dog ordinance, let it do its job. I’m not for breed specific banning and don’t think we need this,” Gastineau told the council.

The motion passed 4-1, the only opposing vote by Maurice Jackson.

Alderman Jeff Shaver agreed the city didn’t need to ban specific breeds, noting that the city currently does not have the facilities to enforce such a ban.

“If the animal ordinance is strong enough, and ours is, it will cover vicious dogs,” Shaver said. “There will always be a dog hated by certain people because of its viciousness,” he added.

Gastineau believes ordinances put in place by cities such as Sherwood, Jacksonville, Cabot and Lonoke are “knee-jerk reactions” to attention-grabbing incidents that have recently occurred.

Ward’s animal ordinance, enforced by animal control officer Jason Ellerbee, includes a section on vicious dogs. As stated in the ordinance, the term vicious dog means any member of the canine family that has exhibited fierce or vicious behavior towards a person, has attacked a person or another animal with such severity as to cause physical injury or property damage, or is the offspring of a domestic dog and an innately wild animal.

The behavior of the dog is not considered vicious if it was provoked or teased. According to the ordinance, if the animal control officer deems a dog vicious, the owner is notified and the dog is taken into custody; it won’t be released until owner requirements are met or unless ordered by the court. The owner also has the right to appeal the decision before a committee of peers as set forth in the ordinance.

To release the animal, the owner has to sign a written agreement stating that unless or until the dog is deemed no longer vicious, it will be controlled in a manner consistent with the ordinance when inside the Ward city limits.

If determined to be truly vicious, the owner must have “insurance of warranty bond on said canine in an amount no less than $100,000 if they wish to maintain the animal” and follow the rules on controlling the dog.

If the dog is not picked up within five days after a decision has been reached, animal control may humanely destroy the vicious dog. If it’s not vicious and not picked up, the dog can be adopted or destroyed in accordance with the ordinances, rules and regulations of Ward and the animal control department that generally apply to all impounded dogs.

The council listened to Bill Seidenschwarz, a dog lover and owner who lives near Cocklebur Road, who told the council he is now taking care of upwards of 30 dogs at his home that the owners can no longer keep because of the banning.

“I’ve had messages in my mailbox, pictures – ‘I’ve had this dog since it was six-weeks-old. I love it but I can’t keep it. Will you please take it?” he said, adding, “They call me at all hours of the night and bring dogs by.”

“I spend about $800 a month out of my pocket to take care of them. I do this because this breed deserves to be taken care of and someday, somewhere, somebody will understand its not a bad dog,” Seidenschwarz said.

He informed the council that there is no breed of dog recognized by any registry as pit bull.

“There never has been, never will be. It’s a nickname given to dogs by people who don’t know of what they speak,” he said.
Seidenschwarz continued, telling the council it’s a people problem. “We need someone to educate the public on how to care for a dog, how to feed it, how to contain them,” he said. “We need a common sense, logical approach to it,” Seidenschwarz added.

“You can follow what your sister cities have done or you can step forward and do what is right,” he told the council in closing.
Roger Schnyer, a Lonoke County resident representing Responsible Owners of Arkansas Dogs, also addressed the council and supplied them with a list of dog breeds banned throughout the United States.

On that list, compiled by Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States (RDOWS), of which Schnyer is the Arkansas director, are such breeds as the Alaskan Malamute, Blue Heeler, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Mastiff, Pug and Saint Bernard, just to name a handful of the 75 breeds on the list. The complete list can be found on RDOWS’ Website, www.povn.com/rdows. According to Schnyer, the Responsible Dog Owners of Arkansas have filed a lawsuit against Lonoke and are working on a suit against Jacksonville because of their breed-specific bans.

“Their ordinances are unconstitutional six times over,” he said, offering his services for free to show the city what a constitutional dog ordinance can do and keep Ward off the list of cities being sued over unconstitutional ordinances.

“I’ll come here any time, at my expense, to sit down with you and go over what can be a constitutional law that will cover all aspects of raising a dog, breeding a dog, feeding a dog, housing a dog and everything that will stand constitutional muster. I’m here to help you, not hurt you,” Schnyer said, “Don’t pass breed-specific legislation because it’s not constitutional and it won’t hold up.”

Mayor Art Brooke told those present that the city had done its homework on the issue and realized a breed specific ban had some negatives, specifically the cost to the city to enforce the ban.

“We’ve put out the best product we can to represent the people of Ward and the animal owners,” Brooke said. “If people took care of their animals we wouldn’t even be talking about this,” he added.

Brooke had obtained area breed-specific ordinances passed recently. “Sherwood has had an ordinance in place for 20 years and had no problems until pit bulls became an issue but they still don’t have a problem because their ordinance has held up,” Brooke said.

While an ordinance was still being discussed, the mayor said the city had been trying to make a good ordinance that owners could live with and keep their pets, but at the same time take care of the citizens of Ward.