Dangerous dog debate 

City-Council considers options

The Indianapolis City-County Council continues to debate a proposed ordinance aimed at curbing dog violence in the city. Proposal No. 370, sponsored by Councilwoman Sherron Franklin, would place restrictions on ownership of “dangerous” dogs while also increasing the fines possible for owner negligence.

Franklin originally introduced the proposal last year, but it was dropped for lack of support. Following several high profile dog attacks in recent weeks, the proposal is once again back on the table. Councilwoman Franklin said that she is hopeful that the proposal will now receive more support “in light of the recent attacks. We can’t continue to wait until someone is harmed before action is taken.”

The introduction of Proposal No. 370 at the June 19 regular meeting of the City-Council was preceded by an unusual meeting of the Rules and Public Policy Committee held last week. Called by Committee Chairman Rozelle Boyd, the meeting’s purpose was to begin a public dialogue on what is becoming an issue of increasing concern, both from the perspective of public safety as well as the rights of dog owners. In addition to allowing public input, the administrator of Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, the chief executive officer of the Humane Society of Indianapolis and a city prosecutor were also invited to offer their testimony on the subject.

“I admire Councilor Franklin for taking the initiative on this very difficult task,” said Stacey Coleman, president of Indy Pit Crew, a pit bull advocacy group. “I have serious concerns, however, about the effectiveness and enforceability of this proposal. Some of the language is repetitious of existing ordinances and some is simply too vague.

“Additionally, the fines in the proposal need to be much more severe so as to serve not only as punishment but also as deterrence,” Coleman said. “I urge lawmakers to investigate what other cities like Indianapolis have done. Indy Pit Crew is ready and able to assist in the passing of tough, comprehensive legislation that will ensure public safety.

“Dog fighting is at the root of the pit bull overpopulation problem,” according to Coleman. “Fighting dogs are often pumped full of steroids and other strength-enhancing drugs. The professional dog fighters keep their dogs under lock and key, hidden in basements and garages. The pit bulls we see on the street are a direct result of irresponsible people and at-risk, impressionable kids who have bought into the allure of dog fighting.”

A majority of the meeting time was allotted to the comments of the three invited speakers. Leslie Fatum, administrator of Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, spoke first. Fatum presented statistics about the number of animals, primarily dogs and cats, that her agency had collected over the last two years, approximately 19,000 per year, as well as the number of reported dog bites, 1,730 in 2004, 1,570 in 2005. Fatum also provided some insight on the roots of the problem, citing a local increase in dog fighting activities as well as a lack of proper spay/neutering practices among many owners who do not intend to breed their pets.

The comments of Martha Boden, CEO of the Humane Society of Indianapolis, in many ways echoed those of Fatum and Coleman. Boden said that her organization has taken in approximately 10,000 animals in each of the last two years, again primarily dogs and cats, but added that a majority of the animals in the Humane Society’s care were there as a result of owner surrender, not stray collection. Boden said, “Animals are becoming more and more a part of our personal lives and we need to develop a culture of respect for our mutual wellbeing.” Boden stressed that spay/neutering pets played a large role in creating that culture, claiming, “Studies show animals live longer and healthier lives when spayed or neutered.”

Avoiding breed specific legislation is the overall emphasis of the views expressed by animal rights activists and the majority of City-Council members, though Mayor Bart Peterson has spoken in favor of breed specific legislation in recent weeks, including registration requirements or limitations on the number of dogs of certain breeds that people could own. “I favor looking at breed specific legislation, though I know some people are opposed to that,” he said.

Council member Joanne Sanders gave a flat-out “no” when asked if she supports any breed specific legislation. Sanders prefers stiffer penalties. She said, “Fifty dollars doesn’t seem like much to me. And I’m also toying with the idea that it be made commensurate with medical expenses.”

The debate is expected to continue. Proposal 370 will get another hearing during a meeting of the Rules and Policy Committee and then go back to the full council for a vote, most likely at the next regularly scheduled City-Council meeting on July 17 at 7 p.m.

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