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Owners of vicious dogs must be held to account



Published: Fri, April 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



If there was any doubt that the city of Warren needs tougher laws to deal with the ever-present problem of vicious dogs, just visualize this scene: A pit bull locks its jaws onto a young boy and then drags the defenseless victim down the street. Helpless onlookers -- trying to scare a pit bull away by shouting at it is an exercise in futility -- call the city's animal control officer, who succeeds in pulling the boy away from the animal. Police shoot and kill the dog.

That's what happened last week on Delaware Avenue SW -- but it wasn't the first such incident. Warren Mayor Hank Angelo, who has been urging city council to strengthen the dog laws now on the books, points out that of the 12 incidents brought to his administration's attention, nine involved pit bulls.

Angelo wants council to amend the laws so there is an official list of breeds of dogs that qualify as vicious. Such a listing would require owners of such dogs to increase their insurance coverage. The mayor proposed the changes last July, but council has yet to act. Lawmakers cannot ignore this problem any longer. When the health, safety and welfare of the residents are in jeopardy, government is obligated to act quickly.

If members of council need justification for enacting tougher dog laws, they should refer to the research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

Human deaths

The research shows that pit bulls and Rottweilers are responsible for more than half of the human deaths from dog attacks in this country.

Dogs bite or attack some 4.5 million people each year and kill about 20. Between 1979 and 1998, there were 238 human deaths, of which 66 were linked to pure pit bulls and 10 to pit bull mixes. Purebred Rottweilers accounted for 39 deaths, and Rottweiler mixes for five.

But as Randall Lockwood, the Humane Society's vice president for research and educational outreach, notes, "It's not a Rottweiler problem or a pit bull problem. It's a people problem."

The researchers offer some suggestions for dealing with this ever-present problem: enforce leash laws and fencing requirements; enforce legal liability of dog owners for their pet's behavior; enforce laws against competitive dog fighting; institute programs that encourage spaying and neutering of dogs; support public education that addresses pet selection, care and bite prevention.

While the Angelo administration waits for city council to act on the ordinances the mayor has proposed, Law Director Greg Hicks has received approval from municipal court judges to have the animal control officer, John Onatz, issue summonses to people Onatz witnesses violating the city's dog ordinances.

That's a start, but it isn't the solution. What is needed are laws with teeth in them -- and the manpower to enforce such laws.




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