Printed on: April 22, 2013

Twin Falls Times-News: Dog laws need bite


It's a "dog-eat-dog" world sometimes. And occasionally, a "dog-eat-human" world.

According to DogsBite.org, every day in America, 1,000 people or more are treated for dog bites. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, Great Danes and other large breeds account for the lion's share of injuries, deaths, and maiming ... at a rate of 1 death per 21 days in the U.S. from Pit bulls alone, no matter what advocates for the breed say.

These large breeds are responsible for 72 percent of the attacks that result in bodily harm, 72 percent of attacks on children, 85 percent of the attacks on adults, and they account for 69 percent of the dog-bite fatalities in the United States and 79 percent of the attacks that result in maiming.

We could go on and on with statistics, but in the end, this issue is really about common sense. Some breeds are more prone to attacks on humans than others. That's a proven fact, no matter how much we love our docile family pet. It's also a fact that owners of large breeds incur upon themselves greater liability for the behavior of their animals. That's why many communities have enacted "large breed" laws. In Idaho, only four cities and one county have "breed-specific" laws on the books. Twin Falls is not one of them.

When those attacks occur, the animals responsible should be dealt with fairly, justly and humanely. The problem is, our policies in Idaho do not seem to be at all consistent on the dangers posed by large breeds, and how to handle them when they become repeat offenders.

Consequently, when incidents occur here, such as the one we recently reported on this week in Heyburn involving a Great Dane that bit a child on the face, animal control workers seem to be unsure of how to proceed.

Should they put the animal down? Should they let someone rescue it? Heyburn officials claim, "It is a confusing and emotional issue," which is never a sound basis for decision-making, especially when a clear and straightforward law already exists.

Perhaps it is time that the towns of the Magic Valley join the ranks of other communities in enacting ordinances that regulate breeds that are known to have a propensity for causing injury. As we said, the owners of those breeds accept a greater liability by owning them.

Omaha, Neb., has an interesting ordinance targeting dogs with a "potentially dangerous designation."

Dogs are classified as potentially dangerous if they inflict injury, unprovoked, on people or another pet. This does not include protecting an owner from assault.

Once a dog is declared potentially dangerous, there is a strict set of rules for the owner, including:

  • Never allow the dog to be off their property unless on a 6-foot leash with a person over 19 years of age.
  • Attend a responsible pet owner class within 90 days of the declaration
  • Spay or neuter the dog within 30 days
  • Carry $100,000 liability insurance

As the situation in Heyburn demonstrates, towns in the Magic Valley need a clear-cut policy on how to handle dogs that attack, especially dogs that are repeat offenders.

And it is high time that we trust - and consistently enforce - the laws that already exist.

Even though ordinances are on the books in Heyburn regarding this specific situation, officials stated that they are still "looking at options for how to deal with the animal." They are "weighing options," such as whether to allow rescue organizations to take the dog and place it in a situation where it can never be adopted, instead of putting the repeat-offending animal down.

The problem is that the law is very clear on the matter. Which begs the question, why is this even an issue?

Animal rights activists might argue, "But what's wrong with allowing the animal to be 'adopted' and put in quarantine?" We respond by asking, "What certainty can any rescue organization give that a repeat-offender dog, if left to live, will not harm another person during the remainder of its lifetime, including those who might care for them?"

It seems to us that the ordinances enacted in Heyburn for this type of situation were carefully thought out and are fair and prudent, and we believe they should be enforced.

Dogs who repeatedly attack humans should be put down, so as not to endanger anyone else.