Council makes progress on vicious dog ordinance
Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson, file photo
Kadin Ehry of Havre pets German wirehaired pointer "Pixie" in July 2007 while owner Anita Wilke of Dodson watches during Bare Paw Dog Obedience instructor Fran Buell's Dog Bite Prevention presentation to children and adults at Pepin Park. Buell's presentation stressed the proper way to greet a dog, what to do if a dog is aggressive or if someone is attacked by a dog and body signals a dog will show before an attack.
Havre City Council's Ordinance Committee held a productive meeting Tuesday on the concerns about vicious animals in town brought up at the council meeting on Oct. 17.
All of the dozen people who attended the meeting spoke about their concerns, offered suggested actions they felt would help alleviate the problem and generally left satisfied with the discussion that had taken place.
The first to speak was also the first person to raise the concerns, Geraldine Laux, who lives near the owners of pit bulls that she feels should be better controlled.
Laux told the committee, "I'm not here to zone in on any one breed. We just want to prevent any incidents with vicious animals. "
She came with four suggestions for the council that she felt would help the situation.
The first idea is to impose a two-animal limit within city limits, with examples of similar policies from other cities in the area, such as Malta and White Sulphur Springs.
Her second idea was to require people with a large number of animals to get a hobby animal breeding permit, like she has seen in Great Falls.
Another suggestion was for the owners of animals to need a $500,000 liability insurance policy, beyond the current policy, requiring $50,000 in liability after a first offense.
She brought some quotes from her insurance agent where a homeowner's liability insurance for $50,000 would cost $38 a year, while $500,000 would cost $57 a year.
Havre's Animal Control Officer Gordon Inabnit disputed those amounts, explaining that when insurance companies hear that the insurance is to cover a potentially vicious animal the rates would be a lot higher.
Laux's last offer was to ban a vicious animal from city limits while a court case about that animal attacking someone is still pending in the court system. If the animal was caught being brought back in, they could be euthanized by the city.
Inabnit took the stand next to explain his point of view in having to enforce these laws, and the difficulty in doing so with the dog owners who inspired the conversation in the first place.
He said that one animal got out once only to be pepper-sprayed by an officer trying to control it before the owner was cited. After that citation the animal got out again and bit someone, for which it was quarantined and the owner cited again. A third escape and attack finally brought the animal down, as the city decided to euthanize it.
When the dog was put down, there were still 10 tickets regarding it pending in city court.
His suggestion to prevent situations like this was to work with Judge Margaret Hencz to establish a protocol for dealing with situations like this, to prevent criminal dogs from being released again before facing their consequences.
"The judge and I need to make a protocol instead of another ordinance because you can't make an ordinance telling a judge what to do, " Inabnit said. "Her conditions of release are her conditions of release.
"That right there would alleviate some of the problem. "
He reiterated a popular point that evening, that this was not just pit bulls being discussed.
"In the past 20 years, I've seen almost every breed bite, " Inabnit said. "They're not the main biters. They just do the most damage when they bite. "
The problem is a lack of control of the animals, he said before explaining a case just that day, where a pit bull was wandering with no tags or collar. Inabnit contacted the owner and told them to handle the animal. The owner didn't. The pit bull was euthanized.
The solutions outlined in the new animal ordinance passed late last spring, he said, were working, they just need time to get going.
"We've got more backed-up cases than in the past five years, because these laws are strong and strict, " Inabnit said. "We haven't really had a chance to let these ordinances work these last three months. "
The discussion then turned to standards for quarantining or euthanizing an animal, which Inabnit said don't exist explicitly, though the law allows court intervention to prevent problems.
Council and committee member Pam Hillery said it was important to deal with this promptly.
"If a dog mauls a child, that dog should die, " Hillery said.
Anita Wilke, from RezQ Dogs, addressed the council toward the end of the meeting to explain her view that pit bulls are not innately vicious and that any dog can be dangerous if not approached correctly.
She said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled statistics that show that 70 percent of dog bites in the past 80 years involve boys under 16.
The key to protecting Havreites from dog attacks, Wilke said, was to encourage and promote training in how to approach and interact with a dog, like avoiding direct eye contact, letting the animal approach and holding hands up with fists closed.
She also brought copies of laws she admired from Calgary that had very specific rules for housing and handling vicious animals, including measurements for a holding pen and requiring signage be posted.
She and her pro-pit bull friends said that the laws from Calgary were fair, and the room agreed.
The committee decided to take the suggestions into account and meet again on Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 7 p. m. to talk about what actions should be taken.
Before leaving, Laux, who first expressed the concerns, was satisfied by the discussion and city's response.
"I think it went very well, " Laux said. "I am pleased with how everyone handled this. "