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Dangerous' dogs tied to responsibility of owners

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Posted: Sunday, April 9, 2006 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:16 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Sarah Chacko

Killeen Daily Herald

The Killeen City Council's recent concern over the city's animals ordinance, specifically regarding vicious dogs, has area residents barking on both sides of the fence.

While some say they fear for their lives, others are worried about dog discrimination if the council passes regulations specific to breeds like pit bulls and Rottweilers.

"All the name calling that's going on dangerous, vicious needs to be reflected back on the owners of the dogs," said Tammy Peden of Killeen.

"It's stereotypical that those dogs are bad. (The law) can't single out just these certain breeds that society has deemed to be bad dogs."

Peden, owner of a female pit bull, said just like children, dogs develop their personalities from the people who raise them.

"I will agree that some breeds are more prone to bad tempers than others," she wrote in an e-mail to the editor, "but those include, Chows, Cocker Spaniels, and Chihuahuas, not just Pit Bulls and Rottweilers! All of these breeds can be controlled with good owners and proper training."

Local animal enforcement officials and caregivers support the stance that breeds do not determine danger.

"The animals aren't the problem. It's the owners," said Killeen Animal Shelter Supervisor Debbie Neal. "The same dog reacts differently depending on what situation it's in."

The biggest issue is free-roaming animals, caused mainly by owners who do not keep them properly confined, she said.

Even with higher fines and more citations, Neal said the problem will never go away.

But it hasn't been getting worse either. In her 14 years with the city, Neal said the number of dog attacks has been steady. The thing that has changed is the publicity of it, she said.

CenTex Humane Society President George Grammas agrees that the bad publicity stems from owners who abuse and neglect their dogs.

"Pit bulls are really very friendly, lovable dogs," he said. "But it's up to the owner to train them properly so they are that way."

Pit bulls are known for their strength, weighing anywhere between 30 and 85 pounds.

Rottweilers are a medium/large muscular breed that can weigh from 90 to 110 pounds.

The Humane Society's Second Chance Shelter does not accept pit bulls and limits Rottweilers because they are hard to adopt out, Grammas said.

The criteria are very stringent, he said; prospective owners have to demonstrate a certain level of maturity and stability.

Those looking to adopt pit bulls receive a briefing on what they can and cannot do with the dogs, he said. For instance, they cannot be engaged in bloodsport or bred.

There are a few pit bulls at the shelter that were received many years ago and through Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts, he said.

All of the dogs the shelter takes in have to be friendly toward humans, he said. There are a few that are not friendly with other dogs, but that's true of many breeds, he said.

In March 2000, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals surveyed shelters around the nation about their experiences with pit bulls. Thirty-five percent said they took in at least one pit bull a day, and at one in four shelters, pit bull and pit bull mixes make up more than 20 percent of their shelters' dog population.

In Killeen, Neal said of the 51 dogs housed in the city's shelter, 10 are pit bull or pit bill mixes and one is a Rottweiler.

Councilman Eddie Vale Jr., who proposed several breed-specific amendments to the city's ordinance, said that though state law is clear and concise, he wants to take the "Rosa Parks approach."

"This law is wrong at the state level," he said. "Let's do our law and let the chips fall as they may."

His intention is that other cities will join in on the changes and get momentum going to push back on the pro-pit bull pressures that are keeping state legislators from acting.

His proposed additions all of which were focused on dogs that are 50 percent or more Rottweiler or pit bull included a non-refundable registration fee and home inspection for sufficient fencing, requiring the owner to secure at least $50,000 in liability insurance, and fines if the dog is found to be outside of its confines unattended or attended but unleashed.

Vale said he knows some responsible pit bull owners but believes most people who own that type of dog are very irresponsible. The number of injuries and kills related to pit bulls and Rottweilers weigh against them, he said.

"They are bred to fight and bred to kill. It's an inherent risk," he said. "There's things about that they cannot change. Without supervision ... different mentalities take over."

According to a report in 2000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers were involved in more than half of the 238 human dog bite-related fatalities during the last 20 years.

However, the CDC's report, states that at least 25breeds of dogs were also involved in the deaths.

Cynthia Perez of Killeen, who was attacked by her former next-door neighbors' pit bull and mixed breed dog in her own home, is also pushing owner responsibility.

In December 2004, after breaking through their rotted wooden privacy fence, the dogs tore through her chain-link fence and entered her home through her pet door, she said.

After getting them out of her house, the dogs attacked two of her three schnauzers before grabbing her arm and leaving a 6 cm laceration, she said. Perez is now a member of the Texas Families Against Dangerous Dogs, a nonprofit organization started by the family of Lillian Stiles, who was killed in her own yard near Thorndale last November by six pit bull/Rottweiler mixed-breed dogs.

The nonprofit organization's mission is to change state laws so that dog owners can be held accountable for serious injuries or deaths caused by their dogs.

TXFADD members are planning on going to the Legislature's special session this spring to support a bill that will "address the responsibility of the pet owner and hold them criminally responsible when serious bodily injury or death occurs from a dog attack," according to TXFADD's Web site.

Perez said while some dogs may pose a greater threat based on physical strength and aggression, the organization has been contacted by many who have been attacked by a variety of breeds.

"You have to pick your battles," she said.

Councilman Dick Young brought up one fatality in 2000, when a Pomeranian a 3- to 5-pound dog in the toy family killed a 6-week-old infant in California.

"They're all the same type of animal," Young said. "They all have similar characteristics."

Because so many other cities have passed breed-specific regulations only to have them repealed in court, Young said he has a problem passing something he knows won't stand legal tests.

City Attorney Kathy Davis said there are other options, short of breed-specific restrictions, which mainly deal with making owners more responsible for their pets, such as higher fines for any breed of animal running at large, which is the most dangerous scenario.

Davis is supported by the CDC's report, which states: "Of 227 reports with relevant data, 24 percent (of the) human deaths involved unrestrained dogs off their owners' property, 58 percent involved unrestrained dogs on their owners' property ... and less than 1 percent involved a restrained dog off its owner's property."

The city's current ordinance is good, she said, with requirements to keep dogs restrained on property and different ways to do so.

Educating the public on what to do when encountered with a dangerous animal as well as continuing education of animal control personnel is as important as changing the ordinance, she said.

But even changes in the ordinance do not ensure that there are enough trained enforcement agents, she said.

"Until you have that, the ordinance is just a piece of paper," she said. "And no piece of paper is going to keep people from being attacked."

Contact Sarah Chacko at schacko@kdhnews.com

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