A bite worse than its bark?: Proposed dog legislation is harsh, vague all at once

Aug 16, 2006 at 1:20 am
It’s been at the front of every pet owner’s brain since late last year: The oft-praised, oft-feared “dog
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
ordinance,” the proposed legislation that — if passed into law by the Metro Council — could add layers of difficulty to owning a pet in the City of Louisville.

The proposed ordinance, in its eighth draft, is currently in the Government Administration, Rules, Ethics and Audit Committee of the Metro Council. Four of that committee’s seven members are co-sponsors of the ordinance. It may emerge from committee as early as this Monday, if 5th District Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton gets her wish, according to Tony Hyatt, director of the Council’s majority Democratic caucus. Hamilton, who could not be reached for comment before press deadline Tuesday, is the principal sponsor of the ordinance.

An older draft of the ordinance — the fourth, dated November 2005 — is posted on the Metro Council’s Web site. On Monday, LEO obtained the most current draft, a 96-page beast that would impose new fees on pet owners and grant extraordinary powers to Dr. Gilles Meloche, director of Metro Animal Services, the government agency charged with enforcing the law.

What they say
Animal rights groups and dog lovers galore have been up in arms since the announcement of the legislation last November, after two people — a 14-month-old girl and a 60-year-old man — were attacked and killed by pit bulls. The deaths occurred less than two weeks apart.
Hyatt said the ordinance is directed at irresponsible owners, people who deprive their dogs of basic necessities or train them to fight.

“The city’s got a problem with pit bulls and dangerous dogs with irresponsible owners,” he said Tuesday. Hyatt explained that the driving force behind the legislation was the need for a more responsive Metro Animal Services, particularly to spread the agency’s officers further across the city. The recently passed Metro budget allots $100,000 for the hiring and training of four new animal control officers.

Hyatt also said criticism from groups complaining about the ordinance, and particularly this draft, is inaccurate.
“If you’re a responsible pet owner, you have nothing to worry about with this legislation,” he said.
There are detractors, of course. The Louisville Kennel Club has criticized the draft, and its vice president, Donna Herzig, who’s on the task force that worked on this draft of the ordinance, said her comments — and those of others who were critical of the ordinance’s breadth — were dismissed outright.

The Web site www.louisville-pets.com has a fairly extensive list of portions of the ordinance that dog owners may take issue with.
For example:
• No one will be able to sell an animal in Louisville without a $300 dealer’s license. Likewise, anyone advertising the sale of an animal will be required to post licensing information within the ad.
• Annual fees for certain pets will differ: $9 for altered (spayed or neutered) domestic pets, plus proof of rabies vaccination; for an unaltered pit bull, it’s $100; a Potentially Dangerous Dog license is $250, and a Dangerous Dog license is $500 — both determinations are to be made individually by the MAS director.
• The owner of an unaltered pit bull must obtain liability insurance no less than $100,000.
• A dog owner may not have more than two pit bulls, dangerous dogs or potentially dangerous dogs on his or her property — all determinations made by the MAS director and based on breed and behavior.
• Owners of dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs must have a seven-foot fence installed beneath ground level on their property; dogs must also be housed at least 15 feet from streets or sidewalks.
In addition, some definitions from the ordinance:
• “NUISANCE. Any act of an animal or its owner that irritates, perturbs or damages rights and privileges common to the public or enjoyment of private property or indirectly injures or threatens the safety of a member of the general public. By way of examples and not of limitation, the commissions on

Cheri Bryant Hamilton
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
the following acts or actions by an animal or by its owner or possessor shall hereby being
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
declared a nuisance:
(1) Allowing or permitting an animal to habitually bark, whine, howl, mew, crow, or cackle in an excessive or continual fashion or make other noise in such a manner so as to result in serious annoyance or interference with the reasonable use and enjoyment of neighboring premises ...
• “PIT BULL DOG. Means and includes any of the following dogs of any age:
(1) The Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed of dogs; and
(2) The American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dogs; and
(3) The American Pit Bull Terrier breed of dogs; and
(4) The Dogo Argentino breed of dogs; and
(5) The Dogue de Bordeaux breed of dogs; and
(6) The Presa Canario breed of dogs; and
(7) The Cane Corso breed of dogs; and
(8) Dogs that have the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of the breeds of dogs known as
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
, and that conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club for
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
• “POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS DOG. … (3) Any dog which is declared by the Director
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
Cheri Bryant Hamilton
to be a potentially dangerous dog under the procedures set forth in this Chapter.”

Although Hamilton wasn’t reached for comment, she submitted an op-ed piece to newspapers:
“We have not only been working on dangerous dogs but those animals that could be a potential problem,” she says in the op-ed. “We have proposed more leeway for animal control officers to get dangerous dogs off the street. This proposed law also deals with a comprehensive overhaul of licensing and sets guidelines for kennels. There are provisions for those who sell dogs. There are also conditions set for making sure neighborhoods and streets are safe from those animals that would roam unattended in a yard or down an alley.”

Hyatt said the parts that seem arbitrary will be filled in by the judgment of animal control officers.
“Common sense is going to dictate much of how this law is enforced,” he said.

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