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County Considers Revisions to Dangerous-Dog Ordinance After Shelter Death

Two meetings, in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, are scheduled for this week to gather public input on proposed changes

Bryan Szal is still grieving the death of his dog, Kitti, after she was mauled to death at a Santa Barbara County animal shelter last month after the gates to several kennels were left open by a volunteer, releasing several dogs at the county shelter located at 5473 Overpass Road in Goleta.

Kitti, a 12-year-old boxer mix, was awaiting a hearing to determine whether she should be euthanized, and Szal was working to get her out of the shelter when he learned she had been killed.

Now the county is working on changes to how it determines which dogs are dangerous and whether they should be unilaterally euthanized. They've issued a draft ordinance, one that Szal said, had it been in place, "my dog never would have ended in the shelter in first place."

The county's Public Health Department, which oversees the shelter system, has issued changes to the ordinance, which can be read by clicking here, and is asking the public to attend meetings this week to give their thoughts about the changes.

Two meetings are being held to gather input. One will be held in Santa Barbara on at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at 300 N. San Antonio Road, and one will be held in Santa Maria at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at 548 W. Foster Road.

The incident that landed Kitti in trouble in the first place transpired on June 1 when Szal was walking with the 62-pound dog, who was off leash one day when they came upon a woman with her small dog, also off leash and which was being carried.

What happened next is unclear — perhaps the small dog was startled by Kitti — and the woman "dropped her dog or it jumped and fell," Szal said.

The small dog died, and Kitti was confiscated and impounded.

Two weeks later, Kitti was given a hearing, where the woman whose dog had died brought forward no witnesses and Szal brought in 11 people to testify on Kitti's behalf, he recalled.

He was later notified that Kitti had been mauled to death after her cage had been left open by a volunteer.

Szal took the dog's body to the vet for a necropsy and turned the report and photos in to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.

Szal has been volunteering at the shelter for years, and said he's not sure how the ordinance got passed in the first place.

"I've never known Santa Barbara to have any sort of dangerous dog problem," he said. "She was a 12-year-old dog who had no history of violence. She had cancer. She scared that little dog, and I had to plead guilty to a misdemeanor."

Szal says there should be other options besides euthanasia of the animal, and that Santa Barbara County's ordinance on dangerous dogs is even more strict than state law. Szal also said he'd like to see a person with a background in animal behavior preside over the dangerous dog hearings.

"It's just volunteers guessing," he said, adding that the shelter could contract the hearings out to an animal behavioralist. "Even hardened criminals get more chances than dogs in the shelter system."

Susan Klein-Rothschild, deputy director of community health for the Health Department, said that she and her staff want to hear from the public about changes they want to see.

One of the biggest differences with the draft ordinances is that "there may be options other than destroying the dog," she said. "Right now, it says there's no option."

Public safety is still a priority, but options could be added so that a dog could be muzzled or restrained when out in public or other ways to keep the public safe without killing the dog, she said.

The information is brought to a hearing, and in recent hearings "we've used someone who has a law enforcement background" to be the hearing officer, she said.

"This is a really a place to begin, we truly are interested in people's thoughts," she said of the draft ordinance and the workshops. "We want to hear these suggestions. I think there is universal agreement that the current ordinance does not give us the flexibility we want."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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