Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Port to put teeth in dog law amid pit bull uproar

By Kristyn Halbig Ziehm, Ozaukee Press

But revised ordinance will not target breeds as some animal owners feared

Port Washington officials said Tuesday they will work to strengthen the city’s existing vicious dog ordinance, but do not intend to regulate specific breeds of dogs.

Several aldermen said they have been inundated by e-mails and letters from throughout the nation after city resident Dan O’Connor said he planned to petition the council to impose strict regulations on pit bulls.

“I got bombarded,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich said, estimating he got as many as 20 e-mails, as well as several letters on the subject. Virtually all the writers opposed breed-specific legislation, he said.

Ald. Paul Neumyer concurred, noting many of the missives pointed out problems that have been experienced by communities throughout the nation that have enacted breed-specific laws.

“We haven’t even scheduled anything on this,” he said.

While both aldermen said they understand O’Connor’s concerns about pit bulls, they said breed-specific laws are difficult to enforce.

“I think it’s just opening up a nightmare,” Ehrlich said. “Rather than the dog, I think a lot of it has to do with the owner.”

Neumyer said the city already has an ordinance dealing with vicious dogs — albeit one that needs strengthening.
“We can tweak the ordinance on vicious dogs to make it work,” he said. “I understand his (O’Connor’s) concern, but we already have an ordinance that deals with vicious dogs.”

City Atty. Eric Eberhardt said he hopes to meet with Police Chief Richard Thomas later this week to discuss revisions to the vicious dog ordinance.

The need for the ordinance to be revised was pointed out by O’Connor, who was in his yard with his two young sons last month when a pit bull wandered in. After O’Connor told his sons to run into the house, the dog chased one of the boys, then turned to chase the other.

O’Connor and his other son got into the house and the dog left the yard. However, it entered a neighbor’s yard and bit the neighbor in the hand, according to police.

The incident prompted O’Connor to announce plans to petition aldermen to enact regulations on pit bulls. 

“To me, it’s so blatantly obvious something needs to be done,” he said at the time. “Under Port Washington’s ordinance, all dogs are the same. But different breeds of dogs are different. It’s important not to overlook a dog’s nature.

“A pit bull is not a wiener dog.”

The city’s ordinance on vicious dogs states that no one may keep a vicious dog in the city, and defines this type of animal as a dog that may suddenly assault a person or his property while he is walking or riding on the public streets or on the premises of the dog’s owner.

“That’s certainly lacking,” City Administrator Mark Grams said, since dogs that attack other animals or people in their yards are not covered by the ordinance.

However, he said, he does not believe the council will look at breed-specific legislation.

“I don’t think they want to go there,” Grams said.

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