Friday, July 22, 2011

Putting Teeth Into Vicious Dog Ordinance

By Mark Archuleta, KHTS

Attempting to put more bite into the Los Angeles County Code regarding “Potentially Dangerous and Vicious Dogs,” County Counsel is recommending three amendments.
The current ordinance requires a court hearing to determine if a dog is potentially dangerous or vicious. Counsel proposes an administrative hearing alternative that would be more cost effective.
“Streamlining should be less expensive for the dog owner in question and much less expensive for the tax payer as well because it will be an administrative hearing that can be appealed to a court if necessary by either side,” said Tony Bell, Communications Deputy for 5th District Supervisor Michael Antonovich.
In the dog owner is notified that an administrative hearing will be held, the hearing will be conducted by a neutral hearing officer.
The Department of Animal Care and Control may authorize its own officer or employee to conduct the hearing if the hearing officer is not the same person who signed the petition to the Superior Court for probable cause that the dog was vicious.
Animal Care and Control may also use a hearing officer from outside the department.
A second amendment would expand the definition of “severe injury” to include any physical harm to a human being that results in a serious illness or injury, including but not limited to a major fracture, muscle tears or disfiguring lacerations requiring sutures or corrective or cosmetic surgery.
According to current code “vicious dog” means any of the following:

  • Any dog that engages in or has been found to have been trained to engage in exhibitions of fighting.
  • Any dog which, when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a person.

The final amendment would expand the definition of “vicious dog” to include findings from other jurisdictions that a dog is a threat to public safety.
One element not included in the amendments is making the code specific to breeds such as pit bulls.
In the past, Antonovich’s office has wanted to name pit bulls in the ordinance, and perhaps even ban them from L.A County entirely, because people were “very, very scared to go out in their own neighborhoods.”
“One could argue that a pit bull is more capable of doing harm than any other dog breed. And I think that is probably true, just by the sheer size and strength of the animal,” said Bell.
However, the efforts of Antonovich’s office were met with resistance and they backed off their narrow focus on pit bulls.
“There are some legitimate pit bull owners too, people that were responsible, that thought their dogs were being unduly targeted and perhaps they were,” Bell said.
Ultimately, Antonovich has come to the conclusion that the owners are responsible, not the dogs.
“The dogs are the tools frankly or the instrument of the negligent owner and it is those owners that we’re going after,” said Bell.
The L.A. County Supervisors will consider the amendments at their board meeting Tuesday, July 26.

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