Baker City, OR: Two proposals for dangerous dogs, one would regulate pit bulls

A committee formed by the Baker City, Oregon city council after a fatal dog attack has drafted proposals for regulating “Dangerous & Vicious Dogs” that include an option for declaring some breeds dangerous.

The proposals come from an advisory committee headed by Police Chief Wyn Lohner.  Lohner wrote the draft so as to give the city council a choice about how to declare dogs dangerous.

One option would have the ordinance focus on declaring “pit bulls” as dangerous, while a second  option would allow a hearing officer or court to hear and weigh evidence before declaring a dog dangerous, no matter its breed.

The 14-page document says dogs declared dangerous or vicious wouldn’t be licensed unless the owner pays a fee set by the City Council and files a compliance certificate and an insurance policy.  A “problem pet owner” wouldn’t be given a license for a dog considered dangerous or vicious.

Allowing a dog to bite or otherwise attack people and other animals would be prohibited. The draft states that a person bitten by a “domestic animal” must report the incident to the police department “immediately.”   If another incident of biting or attacking occurs after the owner receives a warning for the first — and the dog is declared by a hearing officer as a “public nuisance” — it might be impounded by police or an animal control officer until the investigation concludes or a hearing officer makes a decision about the case.

Dangerous behaviors are described in this version of the draft ordinance and include biting; causing injury; and unprovoked approaching or chasing in “a menacing fashion.”  Further explanation of this danger is when the dog “otherwise behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would believe poses a serious, unjustified, and imminent threat of physical injury or death to a Person, a Domestic Animal, or Livestock.”

There are special circumstances noted for these behaviors. Examples include when the person attacked was “committing or attempting to commit a crime against the owner or custodian of the dog or member of its household” and if the person was “tormenting, abusing, assaulting, or physically threatening the dog or its offspring.”

Exempted are service dogs, herding dogs and police dogs — at least if their behavior provides the basis for a declaration of public nuisance “while the dog was performing its duties as expected.”

Restrictions proposed for dangerous dogs include keeping it indoors or, when outdoors, “either within an enclosure or within a fully-fenced yard enclosed on all sides” by a secure and locked fence at least 6 feet high.  When the dog is out in public it must be “directly controlled and supervised by an adult at least 18 years of age.”  The dog would have to be on a 6-foot-long retractable leash attached to a harness and securely muzzled.

The draft states that a dangerous dog “is not allowed to be present at any community event or on any city owned property.”   In addition, dog owners also would have to do such things as post signs outside their homes letting others know a dangerous canine resides within, have the dog evaluated by a professional behaviorist and complete any required obedience training.

Other provisions contained in this draft: microchipping the dog, obtaining liability insurance or a surety bond worth at least $100,000, and it prohibits transferring ownership of the dog without disclosing that it’s classified as dangerous.

The committee will meet again next week to discuss the draft proposal.

According to the city’s website, all city council meetings are open to the public, however, it doesn’t specifically reference committee meetings.  Residents can call the City Recorder, Becky Fitzpatrick at (541) 524-2033, bfitzpatrick@bakercity.com, to inquire as to whether they can attend the upcoming committee meeting.

In the meantime, residents of Baker City should reach out to their elected officials and encourage them to move forward with the breed-neutral dangerous dog proposal.  The second option, which would pertain to any dog, regardless of breed, would be the most beneficial to the community.  The first option, which declares dogs as dangerous by their perceived breed or appearance, will only give residents a false sense of security.  Under the first option, the truly dangerous dogs would be overlooked because they don’t meet the physical characteristics of “dangerous” as defined by the breed-specific ordinance.

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