Terrebonne Parish to consider stricter animal control measures, NOT breed specific legislation

Officials in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana are discussing stricter animal control measures following the death of a 4-year-old child in Houma mauled by a dog in March. The dog involved was originally identified by police as a “pit bull,” but is now believed to be a mixed breed dog. Despite this revelation, the incident sparked a call to regulate “pit bulls” by a councilman in Lafourche Parish, and also had some in Terrebonne asking officials to rekindle discussions related to imposing breed specific legislation there, as well.

In December 2011, sweeping changes were made to Terrebonne Parish’s animal-control laws which set tougher standards for ALL vicious animals and their owners. At that time, an ordinance drafted by Councilman Billy Hebert initially singled out “pit bulls and pit mixes,” and he pointed to, coincidentally, the mauling of a child in Houma. However, after almost a year of research, discussion and debate, a strong breed-neutral ordinance was unanimously passed by the council.

The majority of the Terrebonne council members consider the 2011 law to be strong and working effectively for the Parish, but Councilman John Navy is requesting the Policy, Procedure and Legal Committee to draft rules that more strictly punish owners who are irresponsible with their pets.

Navy said he specifically hoping to address rules that dictate how an animal can be tethered because he believes, and most experts agree, that keeping dogs perpetually tethered contributes to aggressive behavior and tendencies.  He is also interested in discussing the possibly of increasing penalties and whether the parish is adequately staffed to enforce the current law.

In addition, Navy indicated the committee will also consider the responsibility of apartment complexes, particularly with large dogs living with children which, in my opinion, will only end up discriminating against any renters who own dogs, and result in people losing or being denied a place to live because of their canine companions.

In response to the proposed changes, and very likely to the ability of preventing attacks similar to the underlying incident in which the Houma child was attacked in her home by her family’s dog, Councilman Danny Babin stated:

There is no way we can legislate common sense to people, no more than we can legislate morality to people. … I happen to believe if you make the penalty fit the crime, maybe we can stop somebody.

Well said, Mr. Babin.

The facts are plain to see to anyone willing to look at them… We cannot police people inside their homes.  Instead, we must educate people on responsible dog ownership practices and make them very aware of the risks of leaving children alone with ANY dog, regardless of size or breed.

I commend the Terrebonne council for not jumping on the knee jerk “ban wagon,” the direction some immediately encouraged them to go.  Its extremely easy to pass a so-called “solution” to a problem that is, in reality, the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a wound that requires stitches.  These types of “answers” make decision makers feel good about acting on an issue when all they’ve really done is put a mask on it.  Real legislating comes in understanding why problems occur and finding effective, common sense answers to address and remedy those problems.

Any rules that originate from the council meeting tomorrow, Monday, May 12, 2014, will be subject to a public hearing and full council review later in the month.

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