Monday, July 23, 2007
By Ian Urbina,
The New York Times
RICHMOND, Va. (July 23) - Bear is a golden retriever-shepherd who attacked a bicyclist. Dee Dee, a pit bull mix, killed a cat. Cody, a Labrador mix, bit the neighbor.
Their mug shots, misdeeds and home addresses went online this month at the Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry, a new Web page modeled after the state’s sex offender registry. It lets residents find dogs in their county that have attacked a person or an animal, and that a judge has decided could cause injury again.
In many areas, breeds like pit bulls have been banned. Now Virginia has a registry for dogs considered dangerous.
Created after dogs killed a toddler and an 82-year-old woman in separate incidents in the last two years, Virginia’s registry is part of a growing effort by states to deal with dogs deemed dangerous. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia hold owners legally liable if their dogs maim or kill, and in 2006, Ohio became the first state to enact a breed ban, though it was later overturned.
In the last two years, nearly 100 municipalities have taken similar steps — banning pit bulls, Rottweilers, English bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers, or passing regulations that require owners to use muzzles or short leashes in public, according to the American Kennel Club.
Last month, Texas responded to a November 2005 mauling death of a 76-year-old woman by enacting some of the harshest criminal penalties for delinquent dog owners, making it a felony with a possible 10-year prison sentence for anyone whose dog seriously injures a person while off its leash.
But lawmakers taking steps to deal with growing concerns have struggled to ensure public safety without impinging on the privacy and property rights of dog owners. Several of the measures have been overturned in the courts, and many national dog owner and veterinarian associations say the bans are difficult to enforce and ineffective since, they say, if one breed is banned, dog owners seeking aggressive dogs will simply begin fostering fierceness in other breeds.
After the indictment of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who is accused of running a dog-fighting ring from his property in Virginia, the Humane Society estimated that more than 30 percent of dogs in animal shelters were pit bulls, many of them trained as fighting dogs and later abandoned on the streets. That is up from 2 or 3 percent of the shelter population that were pit bulls 15 years ago, the officials said.
“Of course it’s a serious concern when you have more people wanting and training aggressive dogs, and more of those dogs are being abandoned,” said John Goodwin, an expert on animal fighting with the Humane Society.
Counties in Florida and New York have also created publicly accessible dangerous dog registries like the one in Virginia, and legislators in Hawaii are considering one. Critics of the registries say that by publicizing the home addresses of dangerous dogs, they invite harassment by neighbors and invade the privacy of dog owners. Seventeen states now have a “one bite rule” protecting dog owners from liability for the first attack.
“It seems a little unfair to single out a dog if they haven’t done something in the past,” said Jacqueline Short, 40, who lives in Newport News, Va. She is Bear’s owner and says the bicyclist was her pet’s first biting offense.
Now that Bear has been officially designated a dangerous dog, he must be muzzled and walked on a short leash when he is taken in public. But Ms. Short says the toughest requirement has been the $100,000 liability insurance that she now has to carry, which costs about $1,000 a year.
“Courts need to look at the dog’s history and the severity of the incident,” Ms. Short said, “and if the dogs haven’t shown aggression in the past then that should be taken into account before they are considered dangerous.”
Even with stiffer penalties, animal control departments are often understaffed and under-financed and therefore unable to apply the laws.
“Leash laws don’t work because they’re not enforced,” said Mary Hill, the sister of Lillian Stiles, who was killed in Texas in November 2005 by a pack of dogs and whose death inspired the state’s law.
Ms. Hill, who likes to exercise regularly, said she was often frustrated by dogs left off their leashes that chase and harass runners and walkers.
Each year, roughly 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs and about 800,000, half of them children, seek medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On average, a dozen people die each year from dog attacks, according to the center. In 2003, 32 people died from dog-related incidents.
From 1979 to 1998, more than half of the dog-related fatalities were caused by pit bulls and Rottweilers, according to a study published in 2000 in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Randall Lockwood, a senior vice president of the association and one of the authors of that study, said it was a mistake to make policy decisions based on dog-related fatalities, because they are so rare.
“In the ’70s, Dobermans were the scary dogs of choice, and they were involved in more fatalities,” Mr. Lockwood said. “And later, German shepherds and St. Bernards used to be the ones involved in attacks, which is probably why Stephen King chose to make Cujo a St. Bernard, not a pit bull.” Fatalities are, above all, a reflection of the type of dog that is popular at a given time among people who want to own an aggressive status symbol, he said.
Pit bulls have undoubtedly become that symbol in recent years, and communities that have tried to ban them have run into problems. At least 12 states prohibit local municipalities from passing breed-specific legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Critics say the bans are costly and impractical to enforce since breeds are often difficult to identify and dogs are often of mixed breed.
In March 2006, Ohio’s law banning pit bulls was overturned on the grounds that the state could not prove that pit bulls were inherently more dangerous than other breeds.
In Virginia, 75 to 100 dogs have been declared dangerous by a judge, and many of them have been euthanized or moved out of state.
But victims say the insurance is actually the most important part of Virginia’s new law.
Betty Greene’s mother, Dorothy Sullivan, 82, was killed by a neighbor’s three pit bulls that entered her yard. Ms. Greene said she had heard from a number of victims of dog attacks who, more often than not, ended up having to pay for their hospital bills.
The three pit bulls were euthanized and the owner was sentenced to three years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, Ms. Greene said.
“There is no way to explain the grief,” she said. “It’s even worse when the victim has to pay for the lawyers, the death, the hospital bills.”
Copyright © 2007 The New York Times Company
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
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Thursday, February 25, 1999
COMMISSIONER STERN ANNOUNCES NEW LEASH LAW INITIATIVE
DATE: Thursday, February 25th, 1999
Today, Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern announced a comprehensive program to increase compliance with the leash law in City Parks. The announcement was made in Prospect Park at the graduation ceremony of 100 Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers and Urban Park Rangers. The goal is to protect people, park lawns, natural areas and other dogs from unleashed dogs.
The initiative will begin as a pilot program in Central and Riverside Parks. A recent Parks Department study revealed that dogs cause an estimated $250,000 damage in those two parks alone, each year. The pilot program entails:
Raising the fines levied for repeat offenses of the leash law and the creation of a database that tracks repeat offenders of the leash law.
Increasing enforcement by the Parks Enforcement Patrol and working with the Police Department to improve compliance.
Installing new signs and distributing brochures detailing which areas are off-limits and the penalties for violating the leash law.
Creating a volunteer corps that will help educate the public about the importance of keeping dogs leashed and work with the Parks Enforcement Patrol to identify and prevent violations.
Prohibiting dogs from natural areas and selected landscaped at all times.
"Most dog owners are very good citizens who obey the leash law, respect their parks, and respect other park users; some dog owners are not," Commissioner Stern said. "These measures are aimed at this small minority who flaunt the leash law, causing serious damage and preventing the use and enjoyment of the parks by other users, especially the young and the elderly. We aim to deter people from violating the leash law, through increased enforcement, higher fines, and a host of outreach approaches — so everyone understands the consequences of letting their dogs off the leash. "
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Wednesday, April 14, 1999
COMMISSIONER STERN ANNOUNCES CITYWIDE EXPANSION OF LEASH LAW INITIATIVE
DATE: Wednesday, April 14th, 1999
Today, Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern announced the next stage of a comprehensive program to increase compliance with the leash law in City parks. The program protects people, park landscapes, natural areas, wildlife and other dogs.
"We hope to equal the success we have attained in Central and Riverside Parks through the expansion of this initiative," Commissioner Stern said. "Most dog owners are very good citizens who obey the leash law, respect their parks, and respect other park users. These measures are aimed at the small minority who flaunt the leash law, causing serious damage and preventing the use and enjoyment of the parks by other users, especially the young and the elderly. We aim to deter people from violating the leash law, through increased enforcement, higher fines, and a host of outreach approaches — so everyone understands the consequences of letting their dogs off the leash."
Joining Commissioner Stern at the announcement was Noreen E. Baxter, Vice President of the American Kennel Club. The President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Kennel Club, Alfred L. Cheaure, recently wrote Commissioner Stern and commended Parks & Recreation for its attempts to curb irresponsible and reckless dog owners. He also called for new enforcement efforts "...to protect the rights of dog owners as well as city residents."
Pelham Bay Park (Bronx), Cunningham Park & Juniper Valley Park (Queens),
Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan), Fort Greene Park & Marine Park (Brooklyn), and Clove Lakes Park (Staten Island) will be targeted in the expansion. The leash law initiative began in late February as a pilot program in Central and Riverside Parks.
Its elements include:
- Increasing enforcement by the Parks Enforcement Patrol and the Police Department;
- Working with volunteers and dog owners to improve compliance;
- Prohibiting dogs from natural areas and selected landscaped at all times.
In March, the City’s Environmental Control Board unanimously approved our proposal to increase fines against repeat offenders. The measure raised fines for second-time offenders to $200; third-time offenders to $400; fourth-time offenders to $700; and $1000 for the fifth and each subsequent offense. The fine for first-time offenders remains at $100.
The best indication of the program’s success is the large increase in the compliance rate. Before the program began on March 1, surveys measured the compliance rate at 33%. In the seven weeks since, we have observed over 1,100 dogs and 87% of them have been on leashes.
So far, Parks Enforcement Patrol officers have issued 768 summonses for leash violations in Central and Riverside Parks; in contrast, 1,005 summonses were issued during 1998 in parks citywide.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Here is a quote by a dog owner in Central Park:
"When you come into the park you can pretty much take your dog off the leash from the minute you walk into the entrance of the park and, you know, take her where I want to take her."
There is also a slide show that points out just one of the many disastrous aspects of this stupid decision by the commissioners of health and parks.
click here for slide show