Animal control officials in Utah feel present laws are adequate and they don't anticipate stricter laws to regulate ownership of pit bulls, despite attacks on humans and pets.
Most cities in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties have dangerous-animal ordinances that do not restrict residents from owning any breed of dog. They wait until an incident occurs, or behavior that shows a propensity for viciousness, before labeling any dog as "vicious."Springville and North Salt Lake have opted for stricter requirements specifically for pit-bull owners.
All complaints are investigated
Lt. Frank Crowe, Salt Lake City Animal Control, said his agency relies on reports of dog attacks from residents and from nine patrolling animal control officers. All complaints are investigated, and if there is cause, a hearing is held. If the dog is found to be dangerous or vicious, Crowe said, the owner must meet strict requirements for keeping the dog. In extreme cases the animal is destroyed.Two pit bulls were shot and killed by police March 8 after attacking a pedestrian at 600 S. 700 East. They were not registered with the city as vicious dogs, Crowe said.
Pit bulls killed other pets
Neighbors said the dogs had attacked five pets in Conway Court, where the pit bulls' owner lived. One pet died from the attack.
Crowe said that if the pit bulls did attack pets the owners of the animals that were attacked should have reported the incidents.
Larry Spendlove, assistant Salt Lake City attorney, said city animal control officers take a "concerned, active stand in every case," but the incident must be reported before the city can take any action.
Animal control officers say they prefer a "non-specific breed" ordinance. Deanne Hess, Davis County director, said that allows them to go after any problem dog, regardless of breed. The restrictions, which vary from city to city, include enclosed covered pens, warning signs, dog tattoos and liability insurance if any dog poses a threat to the community.
Crowe said many cities nationally are using Salt Lake City's vicious-animal ordinance as a model in coming up with their own.
Stricter ordinances in 2 cities
North Salt Lake's and Springville's stricter ordinances are similar to those used in many areas of California and other states.
North Salt Lake's ordinance was challenged in court two years ago but was upheld. The judge ruled a city can label a certain breed of dog, in this case pit bulls, as potentially dangerous.
North Salt Lake residents must keep pit bulls in a 6-foot-high enclosure, leash and muzzle them when they are outside the enclosure and maintain $100,000 of liability insurance.
Springville's new ordinance went into effect March 19. The law is similar to North Salt Lake's except owners must pay a stiff licensing fee for each pit bull they own. The fee is $500 for the first dog, $1,000 for two dogs, $3,000 for three dogs and $3,000 for each additional dog.
Dogs kill 50 people a year
Nationally, about 50 people are killed every year by dogs. Pit bulls are reported to be responsible for 25 of those deaths.
Authorities agree pit bulls are capable of unprovoked attacks. One difficulty is in defining a "pit bull." John Moore of Salt Lake County Animal Control said pit bulls are not an AKC registered breed. Many bull terriers look just like a pit bull, but the aggressiveness has been bred out of them.
Pit bulls are mixed-breeds
Lisa Tallitsch, who owns a Straffordshire terrier, said that in the early 1900s it was legal to put dogs into a pit and watch them fight like bulls. Most of the dogs bred for this purpose were Straffordshire bull terriers, Straffordshire terriers, American bull terriers and standard bull terriers.
As the demand grew, breeders worked to get the most vicious, aggressive characteristics of all four breeds. A pit bull is a combination of any or all of them.
Tallitsch's Straffordshire terrier, Boston, is the most gentle, mild-tempered dog she has ever owned, she said. "He plays with all the neighbor children and runs with all the dogs in the neighborhood. He has never lashed out at anything or anyone."
Don't want to ban entire breed
Authorities hesitate, Spendlove said, to ban a whole species of dog when a particular animal may not have vicious tendencies. Animal control officials agree.
Officer Steve Patrick, Ogden Animal Control, said illegal pit bull fights are still held and pit bulls are bred and trained for vicious attacks.