By Vanessa Ho, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle officials will be able to destroy or banish dangerous dogs more easily, after the City Council toughened an animal law Monday by lowering the severity of injuries required to invoke enforcement.
The move was a response to a hearing examiner decision this year, involving a Madison Park pit bull that bit three people in the span of an hour.
Seattle animal officials had declared the dog dangerous and ordered it to be put down. But the examiner overturned the order, saying the dog had not inflicted enough damage to invoke Seattle's narrowly written dangerous dog law.
Under that law, a dangerous animal was one that inflicts a "severe injury," defined as death, broken bones, or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.
None of the victims in last year's pit bull attack had wounds so severe.
"We have no vested interest in declaring more animals as dangerous," Seattle Animal Shelter director Don Jordan said Monday.
"But we need the latitude to do so. We need the abilty to keep our streets safe."
In toughening the law (pdf), the council broadened the definition of a "severe injury" to at least one broken bone, or one disfiguring wound requiring medical attention, such as sutures or sticky strips.
It also included nerve damage as a severe injury.
Jordan said a police officer had suffered permanent nerve damage after a dog bit the officer's hand. But there was little Jordan could do with the dog.
Another dog, a pit bull in Magnolia, had bitten off the lower lip of a man who tried to pet it this year. Jordan had declared that dog as dangerous and ordered it banished from the city. But the owner appealed, partly on grounds that the victim had suffered only one disfiguring wound.
"One could potentially argue that it was just one, and not multiple lacerations," Jordan said. The case is now pending before a hearing examiner.
Seattle receives about 600 "aggressive animal" complaints a year, of which 300 involve a bite. Seven dogs were administratively declared dangerous last year, a designation requiring that they be euthanized or sent to live outside the city.