Several cities considering pit bull ordinances
Jeremy Duda - DAILY HERALD
A recent pit bull attack on two men in Orem has led to talk of new regulations on the reputedly vicious dogs. But by the time the attack occurred, several Utah County cities had been quietly considering such laws for several months.
Provo and Orem city staffs are studying the issue and working on potential ordinances, while a proposal may go before the Mapleton City Council within a month. The cities have examples they can turn to, including Springville, which has strictly regulated pit bull ownership for more than 20 years.
"This is something that's been in research for a long time. It's almost ironic that the pit bull attack has come during this period of time," said Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn.
The example and the proposals
For cities that are considering enacting new laws, several questions arise, including whether to implement tougher regulations on dog owners across the board; specifically regulate pit bulls; or ban the dogs altogether. South Jordan, for example, does not allow residents to own pit bulls, while Springville permits the dogs, but only after certain conditions have been met.
In Springville, pit bull owners are required to have six-foot-high fences that go 18 inches below the ground. The owners must also have at least $50,000 in liability coverage for their dogs, either through a bond or insurance.
Since most people do not have $50,000 on hand for a bond, and most insurance companies won't provide coverage for pit bulls, getting a permit in Springville can be difficult. According to Jim Barker, the city's animal control officer, only one Springville resident has a pit bull permit.
Mapleton city manager Bob Bradshaw said a proposal will likely be put before the City Council for a vote in early September, or possibly late August. The proposal would include the same fencing requirement as in Springville, plus a roof for the animal's enclosure. Pit bull owners would need $100,000 in liability coverage for their dogs.
Orem is looking at a number of possibilities, including breed-specific regulations for pit bulls, or tougher laws for dogs in general. City manager Jim Reams said no decisions have been made about when or if any proposed ordinance will go before the City Council.
"We've been looking at it. We have not decided if there will be a course of action yet," Reams said.
Provo's Municipal Council has spent much of the year considering a proposal that would regulate all dogs that are considered vicious. The proposal being considered would create classifications that describe dogs as "at risk" or "dangerous." If approved, the proposal would require owners of at-risk dogs -- those that menace or threaten people -- to keep their dogs fenced while at home and on a four-foot leash while on a walk.
Owners would have to implant microchips in their dogs and provide a photo of the animal to the Provo Police Department.
Dogs that injure people would be considered dangerous, and owners could be required to muzzle them while in public, or even turn them over to animal control authorities to be euthanized.
"At least one of the concerns that's been raised about the proposed ordinance is maybe our existing laws are adequate, and so one thing we're going to do is evaluate the enforcement of the existing laws to see if there's anything we should be doing differently with the laws that we have," said Provo city spokeswoman Helen Anderson.
Regulate owners, not breeds
In late July, two men were attacked by three dogs on State Street in Orem, including at least one pit bull. Anthony Denovellis was surrounded by the dogs as he walked to work one morning, and when a pit bull started biting him, Jim McFarland yelled to them from across the street. The pit bull bit McFarland once or twice before he lured the dogs into a fenced area and closed the gate.
Since then, some Orem city officials have received dozens of e-mails, but most of them have been from people who live outside of Orem, and even outside Utah, who oppose laws targeting pit bulls.
City Councilman Dean Dickerson said he received about 50 e-mails, including about 40 from non-Orem residents, that urged him not to support any anti-pit bull ordinances. Most of the e-mails he received from people in Orem voiced similar sentiments, he said.
"Everyone that I have heard is against any kind of breed-specific laws," Dickerson said. "I think what is happening is people want to show that they love their pets and that they can control them, but people that cannot control them should be held accountable rather than the dogs be held accountable."
City Councilwoman Karen McCandless received about 10 e-mails that were pro-pit bull and from out-of-state groups such as the Humane Society's national office.
"I think we're all getting the same e-mails," she said.
But McCandless has also heard from constituents in Orem who want the city to look at ways to restrict pit bull ownership.
"In talking to residents face to face ... some support banning pit bulls, others want to look at making the owners more responsible somehow," she said.
Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, said his organization is opposed to breed-specific legislation, such as bans or restrictions on pit bulls. Pit bulls are not more aggressive than other breeds by nature, he said, but are often made that way by the people who own and train them.
"What we think they should do is do ordinances more aimed at punishing the owner rather than the dog," Baierschmidt said. "We have a lot of pit bulls here in our shelter that we adopt out, and to be honest, all the ones that I've seen are very friendly, playful. So a lot of it depends on how they're treated."
The American Temperament Test Society has tested dog breeds since the 1970s, and maintains a list of results on its Web site showing what percentage of each breed it has tested fails the group's temperament test. On average, pit bulls fare better on the temperament test than many breeds with friendlier reputations, including beagles and collies.
• Jeremy Duda can be reached at 344-2561 or jduda@....
Bless the Bullys