Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Editorial: Law should put burden on dog owners

Oshkosh City Hall wisely decided not to pursue a controversial change in its animal ordinance that would have singled out pit bull owners and their dogs for restrictions that did not apply to other breeds. But that does not mean the existing ordinance cannot still have teeth.

The proposed ordinance would have required pit bull owners to either complete an American Kennel Club class or obtain a special license in order for the dogs to stay within the city limits. Dogs that did not complete the class would have been required to be muzzled when on a leash and kept in a kennel when outdoors and unattended.

The proposed ordinance drew immediate objections not only from dog owners but also from veterinarians, animal behaviorists and representatives from the Oshkosh Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club.

The city and Oshkosh Health Director Paul Spiegel made the right call to shelve the ordinance. The reputation that pit bulls, a term that covers several breeds, have of being aggressive or dangerous by nature is misplaced. It's the owners of the dogs that are aggressive and dangerous. Any ordinance aimed at preventing dog bites in the interest of public safety must be aimed at the owners, not the dogs.

It is true that pit bulls are breed of choice of dog owners who want an attack dog or a dog for fighting. But the breeds are not inherently dangerous without human influence.

The sad case of the pit bulls being bred to fight at a kennel owned by former NFL player Michael Vick is proof.

When Vick was arrested in 2007, authorities confiscated 51 pit bulls from his Bad Newz kennel. Most experts thought the dogs would not be able to rehabilitated and would have to be euthanized. A report in the Dec. 23 edition of Sports Illustrated is nothing short of a vindication of the breed.

The report showed that 47 of the 51 Vick dogs were saved. Two died while in the shelters; one was destroyed because it was too violent; and another was euthanized for medical reasons. The 47 that were saved went to rescue organizations for evaluation and rehabilitation. So far, 14 have been placed in permanent homes, 11 are in foster homes and 17 more are being readied for adoption.

The dogs are not the problem.

A better approach would be to penalize irresponsible dog ownership. A new ordinance could include a combination of a stricter requirement to register dogs that would require veterinarians, kennels and groomers to require proof of registration; stiffer penalties for mistreatment or neglect of dogs and stricter penalties on owners whose dog attack to include confiscation of the animal for evaluation.

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