Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knee-jerk laws brand gentle dogs as potentially dangerous

Rita Morgan (right) with Kobe, taking a stand for their rights.

Rita Morgan is the epitome of the model pet guardian. She licenses her dogs without fail. When they go for walks, the dogs are always leashed. Morgan even helps less fortunate animals in her northern Washington State community by volunteering copious amounts of her time and energy to organizations in King and Snohomish counties, such as Pasado's Safe Haven.

And yet the 46-year-old Microsoft project management contractor will be caught in a civic dragnet if a new ordinance is passed in Monroe. Her American Pit Bull Terrier Kobe, who was rescued from New Orleans following hurricane Katrina, will automatically be branded as a “potentially dangerous dog” by the city. His breed and 11 others have been singled out in the proposed ordinance.

Mitch Ruth, a Monroe councilman, wrote an email recently calling on animal lovers to help him stop the law from passing, declaring “I vigorously oppose this law as proposed.”

“By owning a dog on this list, you understand that it has a propensity for unprovoked attacks and is a danger to humans and domestic animals,” Ruth said. “Unjust and unwarranted laws that trample upon the rights of owners of specific dog breeds diminish the rights of all dog owners.”

Breed-specific legislation is not a novel approach. It’s a typical hysteria-riddled response to isolated occurrences of dog aggression. For example, in Monroe, the proposed changes come on the heels of a series of incidents related to a single problem citizen who owns three pit bulls. The owner’s irresponsible behavior led a neighbor to ask the city to put more teeth in the laws. Instead of punishing the offending owners, the city’s revisions targeted innocent dogs instead.

“The dogs are being pre-judged,” says Morgan, adding that Kobe is a gentle dog who loves children. “These are draconian measures. This is an insidious way to govern. Council didn’t think about the people affected.”

A dog branded as potentially dangerous gets a strike against him even if he’s done nothing wrong. One small offence such as rushing a person – and this could be one person’s word against another’s, if there are witnesses at all – could cause the dog to go up a step and be branded “dangerous.” That means the dog’s owner has to build an enclosure for the dog and put up signage notifying the public that there is a dangerous dog on the premises. They must also obtain a $250,000 bond and carry a $250,000 insurance policy.

The dogs affected don’t even have to be one of the aforementioned breeds, or a mix – they just have to look like them. The other breeds affected include the following: Akita, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, Kuvasz, Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Tosa Inu.

Sadly, the animals who exhibit aggression – which in most cases is fear-based – are almost always owned by irresponsible, neglectful or abusive people. In many cases, these dogs are victims, not perpetrators.

We all know that a dog is a man’s, or woman’s, best friend. And just as we wouldn’t judge a man by the color of his skin, nor should we judge a dog by his coat. The heart and soul of an American Pit Bull Terrier is no different than that of a Collie or a Golden Retriever.

Do you want to help Kobe and other dogs like him?

If you are disgruntled with what you've read about breed specific legislation and would like to help innocent dogs like Kobe, take a moment to email your thoughts to Monroe city council at councilmembers@ci.monroe.wa.us. If the email bounces back, it might be full. Animal lovers everywhere want the councilors to know this isn't fair. Here are the individual councilors' email addresses:


Every letter counts. Please act quickly. Note that you don’t have to live in Monroe to write in. Dozens of responses have already been received from local and out-of-state animal lovers. If you live in the area, you can also attend a rally tonight. Protestors are meeting at Sam’s Cats and Dogs pet supply store at 202 N. Lewis St. and will march to City Hall at 806 W. Main St. for a 7 p.m. council meeting.

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