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County Supervisors Delay Decision on Changes to Dangerous Dog Ordinance

Santa Barbara County supervisors delayed a decision on changing the dangerous dog ordinance Tuesday and asked for more specifics about the proposed changes. 

Currently, the county code says that dangerous dogs must be euthanized, without any flexibility in the decision-making process. County staff put together changes that would allow a neutral staff hearing officer to evaluate the dog on a case-by-case basis.

The existing ordinance came under scrutiny this summer when Animal Services announced that a dog that had been deemed dangerous was mauled to death by other dogs that were accidentally let out of their cages in a county-run shelter.

Under the new guidelines, a dangerous dog is defined as a dog that has bitten or caused serious injury to a person or domestic animal without provocation, killed a domesticated animal, attempts to bite without provocation or attacks in a way that requires defensive action.

Public health officials said Tuesday that some of the requirements to deal with dangerous dogs could be putting the dog in a secure enclosure, muzzling the dog and restraining it with a substantial leash when outside, wearing a reflective collar and maintaining liability insurance.

A vicious dog is defined as any dog that has been trained or engages in exhibitions of illegal fighting, or, when unprovoked, inflicts severe injury or kills a person.

The ordinance changes under discussion Tuesday said a vicious dog could possibly be euthanized or subject to other regulations like keeping the dog inside an enclosure with a concrete floor and secure top.

The new ordinance would give a staff hearing officer more authority to impose consequences to protect public safety while trying to be flexible with the dog and owner, Animal Services Director Jan Glick said.

During public comment, seven people spoke, with many asking that the ordinance apply retroactively.  

A pair of dogs, Daisy and Duke, just underwent a hearing from a judge after reportedly killing three cats, and many of the commenters asked that the supervisors allow the dogs to be saved under the new guidelines.

Jennie Reinish, a volunteer at DAWG (Dog Adoption & Welfare Group), spoke out for Daisy and Duke, and tearfully said the two dogs were let out of their yard by accident and will be euthanized at a judge's order. She said several thousand people signed a petition in favor of not euthanizing the dogs.

Other commenters said that Daisy and Duke had already been promised a place on a ranch in Montana, where a nonprofit organization was ready to place them.

But several county supervisors seemed to have a problem with the explicit language for a dog that kills a person.

"If you have a dog that kills a person or a child, that dog should be euthanized," Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said. "I'm just having a hard time with that piece."

Other supervisors agreed, adding that euthanasia should be required for dogs that have killed a person.

"Domestic animals have overcome their instincts, that's what makes them domesticated," Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said. "Some of these animals are going to forfeit the right to be among us unless they don't behave. ... If we were to allow a dangerous dog back into the community and then it were to disfigure a child. … I'm having a lot of trouble with the whole thing."

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she had two cats and a dog, all rescues.

"It's not that I'm not sympathetic," she said, adding that the rights of the public to safety outweigh the rights of vicious dogs and their owners.

The board ultimately voted not to amend the ordinance just yet, and asked staff to come back with more changes, including more specifics about the consequences for vicious dogs.

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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