Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gilroy, CA revamping dog ordinance

Gilroy hasn't updated their dog ordinances in fifteen years. Now, they are looking into revamping their animal control regulations.

Gilroy has one animal control officer responsible for all incoming calls regarding animals. This is down from nearly three officers (two full time, one part time) a year ago. All licensing for the city of Gilroy goes through the Morgan Hill police department who recorded 1,000 sterilized, 164 unsterilized dogs and 7 cats (seriously?)

The Gilroy Police Department has registered 36 dog bites inflicted on humans. Thirty-six. And 101 animal on animal attacks.

Let's say that 10% of Gilroy dog owners license their dogs - that means there are about 11,640 total dogs in Gilroy. There are 51,000 people in Gilroy. Let's, for argument sake, suggest that the 36 bites represent 10% of all dog bites (the remaining 90%, and I'm being WAY lenient here, go unreported) - 360 dog bites. Out of 51,000 people and 11,000 dogs. Does Gilroy really have a dog bite crisis? With the 360 total bites estimated, that's 0.7% of humans who can claim to have been bitten by a dog. And assuming all those bites were inflicted by one dog, that translates into 3% of Gilroy dogs who've bitten. I would wager, since getting a license through the Morgan Police Department is difficult and takes up to 6 months, that perhaps the 1,164 number represents less than 10% of licensed dogs, in which case the 11,640 number would be much higher.

The staff responsible for reviewing the current and other ordinances suggested the following upgrades:
- Require proof of registration on all animal calls
- Require all animals be microchipped when licensed
- Consider transfering the licensing process to Gilroy, instead of through the Morgan Hill PD
- Require all Level 2 or 3 dangerous dogs (these are dogs who have attacked animals or people) found at large be spayed or neutered at the owner's expense
- Require owners with dogs classified as Level 2 or 3 dangerous carry liability insurance.

A Level 3 dangerous dog is one who has been trained to fight (in addition to other stipulations), so I'm curious if all fight bust dogs rescued by reputable rescue organizations and placed would fall under this category.

Staff looked into regulating pit bulls, but it sounds like that won't happen, thankfully.

The real concern I have with the proposed updates come from the news article. It wasn't mentioned in the agenda or packet notes from the council meeting, and I don't have the time to watch the video of the meeting to see if it is brought up:

Other additions to the nearly 15-year-old ordinance include a "strict liability" provision, in which the owners of dogs who bite people or attack other pets will be penalized regardless of the circumstance.

There are numerous circumstances in which I expect my dog or anyone else's dog to consider using teeth. When an off-leash dog approaches my dog aggressively or, if my dog is aggressive but properly leashed and reacts inappropriately with teeth - I should not be held accountable for the inability of someone else to restrain their dog. When two-leashed or two off-leashed dogs meet and behavioral cues are missed or ignored, both parties should be held accountable for any transgressions. If a person enters someone's property without permission, even if they are an otherwise benign individual, a reasonable response by a territorial dog is to warn and then aggress, if necessary. While a home owner can be held accountable, there should not be strict liability - a judge or review council should have discretionary control. And if that person is not benign, perhaps a rapist, it seems crass to foist strict liability onto the victim.

I'm not averse to liability requirements at all, but they should be circumstantial not black-and-white. But more so, I don't think liability requirements are a deterrant or useful in reducing dog bites. Stricter enforcement of loose dog laws, better requirements on licensing and microchipping, and an excellent educational program for schools and dog owners are a lot more useful suggestions than mandatory castration or strict liability laws. It's also a little silly to expect owners to carry around registration or vaccination certificates. 

All in all, I think Gilroy already has decent animal control ordinances. They aren't having an upsurge in serious or deadly dog attacks. A better use of their time and money would be to re-hire another animal control officer to better enforce loose dog laws, increase education outreach efforts, improve the infrastructure for low-cost castration, increase licensing through spay/neuter/vaccine clinics and make it affordable, and integrate their licensing system so that it is through Gilroy and not another city's police department. Gilroy isn't an incredibly large city, and they don't have a huge dog bite epidemic, so improving public safety (which it doesn't seem to be that compromised by dogs) shouldn't be too hard. Hopefully, the council will eliminate the proposal for strict liability and focus on things that work instead of band-aid fixes that obscure.

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