PROVO A neighborhood's complaints of pit bulls running wild has prompted city officials to research remedies that could result in tighter restrictions for a dog breed with a bad rap.
City Council member Midge Johnson said she's been receiving a lot of complaints lately from a neighborhood in her district generally at 640 South 1000 East. Thus far, more than 20 neighbors have complained about pit bulls in the area, saying, "We can't walk our streets anymore."
"Those people are very concerned," Johnson said. "The dogs are running loose. They get out and everybody scatters."
In response to Johnson's reports, the City Council called in Dr. Vaughn Park, a veterinarian at Alpine Animal Hospital, to highlight possible courses of action at their work meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Park told City Council members pit bulls have a bad reputation because of their owners.
"Most dog problems are really not dog problems," he said, "They're people problems."
Park said he's met pit bull owners "who have the sweetest, nicest dogs you've ever seen." But there are also people who want the "Michael Vick image."
"There are some people that like the tough image so they get the pit bull," he said. "And, unfortunately, they train those dogs to be mean."
Police officers responded to 93 incidents of animal bites during the past two years nine of which were attributed to pit bulls, said Provo Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Parker. Parker noted that three of those incidents happened in the Provost neighborhood.
The Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States examined 20 years of dog-bite fatality research and found that pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers cause the most fatalities. However the report, completed in 2000, stated "enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raise constitutional and practical issues."
Park said there appears to be a pit bull bite problem because it's currently a popular, inexpensive breed to buy. A person can buy a pit bull for as little as $50, he said. If the number of German shepherds increased in a specific area, he said, so would reports of German shepherd-related bites.
In any case, Park said he recommends against the city creating any breed-specific ordinances, as other cities have done.
"Certainly, we would not talk about this if we were talking about people," he said. "You wouldn't think of banning a race of people from your city."
Locally, Springville passed an ordinance in July 2005 that required all pit bull owners to register their dogs. The city also increased insurance requirements from $20,000 to $50,000 and stated that a pit bull had to be leashed and under the control of its owner whenever it left a fenced yard.
Instead of banning pit bulls or placing higher restrictions, some council members recommended an ordinance that would require muzzles on dogs larger than 40 pounds. Park said he doesn't think that would be effective when current ordinances aren't being enforced.
"Is it going to do you any good to have a muzzle law when you don't even enforce the leash law?" he asked.
But Johnson isn't ready to let sleeping dogs lie.
"I'm not prepared to say all is well," she said. "You might say our laws are sufficient, but it's not sufficient when a neighborhood feels like they can't walk the streets."
Johnson isn't necessarily saying Provo should adopt a complete pit bull ban, like Denver did in 1989. But she thinks more can be done to keep people safe.
The City Council decided to explore the issue further and study what other cities so they understand all their possible options. They readdress the issue at their next meeting on April 8, Johnson said. They don't plan on making any "knee-jerk" decisions, she said."I'm just trying to be rational about this," she said. "I'm not making laws for the sake of making laws."
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