Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Broward overturns tough dog-attack law

By Brittany Wallman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Dogs will get second chances before euthanasia

Broward County overturned a strict but controversial dog law Tuesday that had sentenced dogs to die after just one serious attack or killing of someone else's pet.
Despite emotion-wracked stories about pet killings, commissioners were unanimous in agreeing to bring the county in line with the more lenient state law, with some tweaks. Dogs will now have to seriously attack or kill at least two domesticated animals before being eligible for euthanasia.
Commissioners were concerned over the legality of the county's strict dog law, which is being challenged in court.
The county's 2008 zero-tolerance law resulted in the euthanasia deaths of some 56 dogs in Broward County, the vast majority of them pit bulls or Rottweilers who attacked family pets.
Then the plight of two dogs on Broward's dog death row, Brandie and Gigi, caught the public's attention. One woman even asked the governor for a canine pardon. Their lives will be spared.
New Commissioner Chip LaMarca pushed for the law's loosening, after promising on the campaign trail that he would. His opponent, former Commissioner Ken Keechl, had championed the stricter law in the first place.
Under the law passed Tuesday, a dog will be declared "aggressive'' after one serious, unprovoked attack on another domesticated animal, and the owner will have to get the dog spayed or neutered, photographed, registered with the county, and kept in a muzzle when it's not fenced. It couldn't be taken to a dog park or commercial establishment.
A second attack would lead to a "dangerous'' designation, and another set of requirements, including having the dog implanted with an animal identification microchip, putting up "Dangerous Dog'' and "Beware of Dog'' signs, and hiring an animal behaviorist to check the dog out. The owner would also have to pay restitution to the owner of the pet that was attacked or killed. If the owner doesn't comply with those and many other requirements, or it attacks again, the county could take the dog and euthanize it.
Just one attack on a human makes a dog eligible for the dangerous dog designation.
Passions were high on both sides. Owners of dogs or cats who were killed or maimed said a second chance shouldn't be given. One woman wrote to Commissioner Kristin Jacobs to say that her "little girl'' Mitzi was killed, and that "if an aggressive dog attacks once, they will only do it again.''
Speedy, Mojo, Marbles, Slugger, Chico, Lucy – they're just a few of the many pets who were killed by runaway dogs in the past two years, according to the county's files.
Natalie Cooke sobbed as she recounted to commissioners an invasion in her yard of three runaway pit bulls who swam a waterway to get to her property. Her cat, Marbles, and dog, Coco, are dead now.
But owners of larger dogs told commissioners that small, barking dogs set their dogs off. They said it wasn't fair to doom dogs for following their nature.
Many people criticized the county's investigations of the bite cases, and questioned the county staff's ability to properly cast judgment that could end a pet's life.
"Dogs have instincts,'' Richard Castillo, owner of a Mastiff, said. "When provoked, they respond.''
Dogs don't have "human consciousness,'' attorney Jason Wandner reminded.
Wandner represents Mercedes, the sole dog left on Broward's dog death row. The pit bull will be spared.

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