By Lee Hammel, Telegram & Gazette
COUNCIL PASSES LAW REGULATING OWNERSHIP
The City Council tonight passed an ordinance that will regulate the licensing and ownership of pit bulls and “other dangerous” dogs in the city. The ordinance will take effect April 1.
The vote was 9-2 with Councilor-at-large Michael J. Germain and Mayor Joseph C. O'Brien opposed.
The ordinance had been drafted initially aimed only at pit bulls, but last night all of the councilors except Mr. O'Brien agreed with Councilor-at-Large Kathleen M. Toomey's amendment to include "other dangerous" dogs. Ms. Toomey's proposal to establish a task force to determine what other dogs would come under the new ordinance was stymied, at least for tonight, by District 3 Councilor Paul P. Clancy Jr.
Mr. Clancy held her proposal under privilege, which prevented it from being discussed. It will be taken up at the next council session, Sept. 21.
The Worcester Animal Rescue League had threatened to stop accepting all dogs that the city's animal control officers turn over to it if the council passed the ordinance. Asked whether that will happen now, Allie Simone, acting director of the rescue league, said after the meeting that the organization needs time to digest all of the amendments added to the proposal tonight.
Among the amendments that were adopted was one exempting dogs trained and relied upon as a service dog or assistance dog by a person with a disability. It also exempts dogs that complete a training program from a nationally-accredited facility or trainer.
Those amendments were proposed by District 5 Councilor William J. Eddy, one of the primary sponsors of the proposal. Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton said it will be meaningless without further definition, but he was unsuccessful in getting the proposals sent to a council committee.
Mr. Eddy cited updated statistics from the Police Department and the city clerk's office showing that 3.75 percent of the city's licensed dog population comprises pit bulls, while dogs attributed to that breed are responsible for 46 percent of the dog bites reported to police. Those statistics for the year ended June 30 are even higher than those from a couple of years earlier showing that 2 percent of licensed dogs were pit bulls but they were responsible for 25 percent of the dog bites reported to police.
Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said, “When you look at these numbers, something has got to be done.”
More than three dozen people sat in the audience tonight, many who testified at the previous public hearing that pit bulls were being unfairly singled out, and that owners and not dogs are the problem. One of them stormed out during Mr. Eddy's presentation, yelling, “Why don't we muzzle him?”
The ordinance neither bans pit bulls and other dogs nor confines them to an owner's property. Instead, it will impose supplementary licensing and registration requirements and charges $50 more for their registration and licensing than for other dogs.
It will require those dogs to be leashed and muzzled, or placed in a secure temporary enclosure, when taken off the owner's premises. It also will require: Consent of a landlord to keep a pit bull on the premises; placement of a warning sign informing the public that a pit bull is on the premises; and notification of animal control officers or the police by owners whenever their pit bull injures or threatens any person or animal.
Mr. Germain said pit bulls are the choice of gang members to intimidate.
“The issue isn't dogs. The issue is gangs,” he said.
Mr. Eddy said he realizes opponents feel the ordinance would address only the perception of dangerous of the dogs but he said, “Let no one dismiss how important the perception of safety is.”
District 4 Councilor Barbara G. Haller said, “It's amazing how few animals are registered in District 4.”
Mr. O'Brien said he agreed with her, pointing out that unregistered dogs will escape the impact of the ordinance.