Dog attack victim wants change in ordinance

Published 2:31 pm Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lisa Gable will never forget the day she was attacked by dogs.

On a sunny afternoon in late June, Gable went for a walk with her 5-month-old boxer, her neighbor and her neighbor’s three young boys.

About two blocks from Gable’s home, two pit bulls ran out from a house and charged the group. The children were rushed safely inside a van, but Gable fought with the dogs for minutes, fending them off with a slab of wood she saw nearby.

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Gable suffered a back injury and now carries pepper spray during walks; one of the boys endured nightmares after the incident, she said.

City ordinance about dangerous animals

According to city ordinance, a dangerous animal is one that:

1.Without provocation, inflicted substantial bodily harm on a human being on public or private property;

2. Killed a domestic animal without provocation while off the owners property; or

3. Been found to be potentially dangerous, and after the owner has notice that the animal is potentially dangerous, the animal aggressively bites, attacks or endangers the safety of humans or domestic animals.

Also according to city ordinance, there are requirements to keep a dangerous animal:

If the City Council does not order the destruction of an animal that has been declared dangerous, the City Council may, as an alternative, order any or all of the following:

1. That the owner provide and maintain a proper enclosure for the dangerous animal as specified in Subd. 20 above;

2. Post the front and the rear of the premises with clearly visible warning signs, including a warning symbol to inform children, that there is a dangerous animal on the property as specified in M.S. § 347.51 as may be amended from time to time;

3. Provide and show proof annually of public liability insurance in the minimum amount of $300,000;

4. If the animal is a dog and is outside the proper enclosure, the dog must be muzzled and restrained by a substantial chain or leash (not to exceed six feet in length) and under the physical restraint of a person 16 years of age or older. The muzzle must be of a design as to prevent the dog from biting any person or animal, but will not cause injury to the dog or interfere with its vision or respiration;

5. If the animal is a dog, it must have an easily identifiable, standardized tag identifying the dog as dangerous affixed to its collar at all times as specified in M.S. § 347.51 as it may be amended from time to time, and shall have a microchip implant as provided by M.S. § 347.151, as it may be amended from time to time;

6. All animals deemed dangerous by the Animal Control Officer shall be registered with the county in which this city is located within 14 days after the date the animal was so deemed and provide satisfactory proof thereof to the Animal Control Officer.

7. If the animal is a dog, the dog must be licensed and up to date on rabies vaccination. If the animal is a cat or ferret, it must be up to date with rabies vaccination.

Source: City of Austin

To remedy the problem of dog attacks in Austin, Gable would like the city council to take a look at strengthening its dangerous dog ordinance.

Currently, the ordinance describes a dangerous dog as an animal that, without provocation, inflicted substantial harm on a person on public or private property or killed a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner’s property.

In addition, if a dog was found to be potentially dangerous — a separate category by ordinance — and proceeds to aggressively bite, attack or endanger people or domestic animals, it can also be labeled dangerous.

To date, six dogs have been labeled dangerous or potentially dangerous in Mower County this year, according to the auditor-treasurer’s office. All six were Austin cases.

What happened to the one dangerous dog is typical of most cases — the dog was taken to a pound and put down.

That is allowed by ordinance, but there are other options. If a dangerous dog is not put down, an owner can keep it — provided a long list of requirements are met.

These include implanting an identifying microchip in the dog, putting up clear signage on the house, and taking out a $300,000 insurance policy.

However, keeping dogs that have been labeled dangerous is rare — auditor-treasured Douglas Groh said he can’t think of any dogs that have been registered dangerous and kept, rather than taken to the pound, since he took office in 2007.

Instead, animal control officers like James Dugan often take the dogs away.

Dugan, who has been in his position for nearly nine years, said there is no such thing as an average day on the job — he says the number of dangerous dog cases always varies.

When a call is made, Dugan or one of two other animal control officers go out with trapping equipment, such as a tranquilizer gun. However, finding the dog often becomes a problem if no one watched where it ran off to after an attack.

Ultimately, Dugan says the responsibility rests with dog owners and that they are the only ones that can bring dog attacks to zero.

“Owners need to take care of (their dogs) so attacks don’t become a problem,” he said.

Dugan also said he would support an ordinance change if it made people safer.

City administrator Jim Hurm said the issue likely won’t come up at the next council work session Monday, but did note that it would down the road as a “matter at hand.”

Most likely, discussion would focus on other cities’ dangerous dog ordinances and how certain aspects could be applied here, Hurm said.

One limiting factor present in all city dog ordinances is a Minnesota law that restricts breed-specific legislation.

So, for example, an ordinance couldn’t have certain restrictions for a pit bull and not for a rottweiler.

Still, Gable wants to see change.

“Not only do I have the right to feel safe while walking my dog, it is our obligation to make sure all our children are safe when they are playing outside,” she wrote in a letter to council. “That begins with (the city council).”