Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Mixed-breed pit bulls wait to be adopted from the Utah Humane Society's animal shelter in Murray on June 27.

SANDY — In early June, a 6-year-old girl was attacked in an apartment complex here by an unattended pit bull that had escaped its fence.

The child's face was mauled before the dog was stopped. She was taken to Primary Children's Medical Center and received sutures in her lip, cheek and chin, said Sandy Animal Control director Rich Bergan. The girl is now home recovering.

"There are truly dangerous situations going on," Bergan said.

Just days after the pit bull attack, a female jogger was bitten by a German shepherd that had recently been adopted by a Sandy family. The woman suffered eight puncture wounds. In the final weekend of June, three fighting pit bulls were quarantined after they bit a man trying to stop them.

These incidents and about 200 per year like them have the Sandy City Council considering breed-specific changes to the city animal-control ordinance.

If approved, the new ordinance would put vicious dogs in three classes: prohibited, restricted and dangerous. Prohibited dogs would include coyotes, wolves, dingos, and wild hybrids — animals already outlawed in the city.

Breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers would be in the restricted class. The city could require their owners to take out insurance policies, build escape-proof kennels and pass an inspection by animal control officers.

Restricted dogs could be upgraded to dangerous dogs if they showed a tendency for violence or were classified dangerous by a judge. Those dogs could only be taken in public with short leashes and muzzles, according to the proposed ordinance.

"Animal rights is almost a religion now, but we think we need to bring (this issue) to people's attention," Sandy council member Chris McCandless said in a work meeting. "The main thing is preventive. We're not trying to keep animals out."

Two residents at a City Council meeting July 1 said the ordinance should outlaw pit bulls completely. One woman, who was attacked by a pit bull at the age of 9, said there was no need for Sandy to have such unpredictable and ruthless animals.

Last year in the United States, about 5 million people were victims of dog attacks, according to the nonprofit Web site dogbitelaw .com. Of those, 800,000 needed medical attention and 1,000 were hospitalized. Also in 2007, 32 people died as a result of dog attacks.

Utah has had no recent deaths caused by dogs, but neighboring Wyoming is consistently a leader in dog-related fatalities.

A 2006 study showed that 65 percent of dog-related fatalities nationwide have been caused by pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes.

Some people acquire vicious dogs as kind of an alter ego, Bergan said. Those people are likely to mistreat their animals. The trend is evident by the disproportionate number of these dogs that wind up in Utah animal shelters, he said.

Pit bulls are particularly dangerous because they have been bred as fighters, said Utah Humane Society animal cruelty investigator John Paul Fox. Other dogs, such as poodles, were bred for their looks.

Disparate breeding practices make pit bulls harder to identify, Fox said, making breed-specific laws hard to enforce.

The Humane Society of Utah generally discourages breed-specific laws but encourages vicious-dog ordinances that restrict individual canines, Fox said.

"It's unfair to those dogs and those owners who are good owners and have never become a problem," he said, saying the laws are as inequitable as a hypothetical law that fined drivers of certain models of cars just because similar cars had crashed.

Sandy's vicious dog discussions are coinciding with similar discussions in Provo. Leaders there had considered a breed-specific ordinance but decided instead to tighten laws on all vicious dogs.

Other Utah cities have gone further. North Salt Lake, for example, requires owners of certain dog breeds to keep their dogs either fenced in or muzzled and leashed and take out $100,000 insurance policies.

"That alone is usually enough of a deterrent," said city recorder LaRae Dillingham. The North Salt Lake law restricts the bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, pit bull, Tosa, and Shar-Pei.

South Jordan outlaws pit bulls except for those acquired before the ordinances changed. For the remaining dogs, a $50,000 insurance policy is required. Several other Salt Lake County cities have rules for dogs deemed vicious but don't specify breed.

Sandy attorneys are considering adding insurance requirements to the proposed breed-specific ordinances. The City Council has scheduled a short presentation on the issue during its regular July 15 meeting.

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