Concerns about “pit bulls” were first raised by the Watertown city council last month. The council was advised by their attorney at their last meeting that New York state law prohibits municipalities from passing breed specific ordinances.
I must reiterate that this is an excellent opportunity for Watertown residents to work with their city officials in crafting an effective dangerous dog ordinance for their community. Please reach out to your city officials with suggestions and strong breed-neutral ordinances for their consideration. This is a chance to create and promote positive change in Watertown.
Council holds ‘pit bull summit’ after recent dog attacks
By CRAIG FOX
TIMES STAFF WRITER
TUESDAY, APRIL 10, 2012
City Council members learned Monday night that not much can be done to prevent serious dog attacks from happening.
Calling it “a pit bull summit,” Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham arranged for the meeting with people involved in animal control and law enforcement after recent high-profile dog attacks in the city.
Police Chief Joseph J. Goss, city attorney Christine E. Stone and Todd L. Cummings, Jefferson County’s dog control supervisor, attended the work session to answer questions about existing laws and how to control aggressive dogs.
“So what can we do?” Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso asked near the end of the 40-minute discussion.
“I don’t know what you can do to remedy the situation,” Mr. Cummings said, adding that he would like local courts to use state agricultural and markets laws to designate a dog that has been involved in an attack as “dangerous.”
In the past, Watertown City Court judges have been reluctant to use the state law and have relied instead on more vague city laws, he said.
Ms. Stone told council members she also would like to see judges use the state law because a dog that has been deemed dangerous could be put down.
For the past 13 years, the Jefferson County Dog Control Office has handled dog control for the city. Last year, Mr. Cummings said, there were 16 dog bite incidents in the city, with pit bulls as the worst culprits.
The most serious occurred last August at the Watertown farmers market when a 2-year-old boy was mauled by an American bulldog. The boy suffered severe bites on his face and needed 128 stitches and surgery.
As a result, the City Council banned all dogs at public events on city-owned property. The police have already begun enforcing that law, Chief Goss said, adding that officers instructed dog owners they had to leave the March 18 Irish Festival parade with their pets.
There are 1,675 dogs licensed in Watertown, but Mr. Cummings believes that the dog population is much higher. A license costs $20 and can be obtained at the city clerk’s office.
The three full-time dog control officers and five part-time officers took 128 complaints in Watertown in 2011. Last year, city police officers were called to 73 animal complaints.
Rather than fining repeat offenders, Ms. Stone believes that requiring the owner to buy a kennel or erect a fence might be a better way to make sure the animal does not get out again.