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Dog owners make a plea for pit bulls

Published September 28, 2010 10:47 pm

Ogden • Residents bash a proposed law that would target the dogs as inherently dangerous.
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Ogden • About 18 months ago, Sandra Leavitt adopted a full-bred pit bull from the Ogden Animal Shelter. Leavitt, who battles epilepsy, considers her now-constant canine companion, Nikki, to be her lifesaver.

Nikki, now 3, underwent yearlong service training to become Leavitt's seizure-alert dog.

"My concern is that they could take her away from me," Leavitt said of Ogden's breed-specific legislation that would target pit bulls as inherently dangerous and aggressive.

Residents crowded into City Hall on Tuesday night to speak out against the proposed ordinance presented by Animal Services Director Bob Geier and Assistant City Attorney Mara Brown.

City Council members first waded into the thorny topic more than a year ago in response to alarming statistics from Ogden's shelter.

In 2005, of the total number of dogs quarantined for biting someone, Geier identified 36 percent as pit bulls or pit-bull mixes. That figure rose to 40.5 percent in 2009. To date, the rate for 2010 is 39.3 percent, he said.

Tuesday's fact-finding session included several presentations and detailed discussion of breed-specific language that, if approved, would be inserted into the city's existing dangerous-dog ordinance.

Geier painted a picture of the aggressive tendencies that he said pit bulls inherently possess — and the problems they pose to Ogden neighborhoods.

"They're a good dog that needs to be restrained by a responsible owner, but they can be bad at times," Geier said, describing their Houdini-type abilities to dig or jump their way out of almost any enclosure.

Geier expressed gratitude for his small but well-trained staff, which he says is adept at identifying pit bulls.

That statement evoked skeptical laughter from the crowd gathered in City Council chambers. And Hank Greenwood, president of the American Dog Breeders Association, questioned their ability to identify pit bulls by sight.

"You don't have a pit bull problem," Greenwood said. "You have an identification problem. Pit bull is not a breed, it's a slang word that describes two to 30 different types of dogs."

Greenwood, who opposes breed-specific laws, showed slides of several dogs being held in the Ogden Animal Shelter that he believes have been misidentified as pit bulls.

South Jordan's 1999 pit-bull ban has been ineffective in reducing dog-bite incidents, said Melissa Lipani, of Kanab's Best Friends Animal Society.

Instead, such incidents have increased 112 percent since city officials enacted their breed ban, Lipani noted.

"This is not a community-based approach," Lipani said of Ogden's targeted ordinance. "It will dramatically increase your euthanasia rates and will open your community to costly litigation."

Ogden resident Diana Taylor shared Leavitt's fear that such regulations would make it too expensive for her to keep her pit-bull mix pup, now 7 months old.

"The most dangerous thing about her is her tongue — she'll lick you to death," Taylor said, pleading with council members not to punish her for irresponsible owners who make their dogs mean.

Kitty Williams, who owns two pit bulls, warned the council that the slim Animal Services budget could be better used for expanding spay-and-neuter services rather than enforcing an ineffective law.

The council made no decisions Tuesday but agreed to give the issue due deliberation.

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

Ogden's proposed pit bull curbs include:

Owners must carry $25,000 in liability coverage.

Landlords or property owners — if not the dog's owners — must give written permission for the animal to reside there.

City workers can inspect the dog's home at any time.

Owners must notify animal control any time the animal gets loose or has attacked a person or another animal.

If the dog changes hands, the former owner must provide the city with the new owner's contact information by the end of the next business day.

The dog must have a microchip ID implant — at the owner's expense — at the time of licensing.

When outdoors, the dog must be confined in a secure kennel or fully fenced yard. When not confined, it must be kept on an adequate chain or leash.

The dog's place of confinement must be marked by a "Beware of Dog" sign that measures at least 10 by 14 inches.

Violations would be a class B misdemeanor.

Source • Ogden City Council —

Four Utah communities restrict pit bulls

North Salt Lake • Requires 6-foot-by-6-foot-by-10-foot fenced area; the dogs must be leashed and muzzled outside that area, $100,000 liability insurance.

Smithfield • Allows conditional-use permits for kennels only if a fixed dog run is provided — for pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers and wolf hybrids.

South Jordan • Bans them. Existing pit bulls must have a permit, $50,000 liability insurance or bond, six-foot fenced area unless pen is roofed. Dog must be microchipped, and muzzled and leashed outside fenced area.

Springville • Deems them dangerous and requires constant restraint. If loose, officers can take any action necessary to secure the dog. A $100 permit is required — $20 reduction if spayed/neutered, $50,000 liability insurance, enclosed pen must have six-foot fence that extends 18 inches below ground unless roofed. Warning signs required. One bite and the dog must leave or be destroyed.

States that prohibit breed-specific legislation • California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia.

Source • Ogden City