By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Seward County commissioners are considering the adoption of a resolution which would regulate not only pit bulls, but also vicious dogs in general.
Earlier this month, the commission voted narrowly to repeal an ordinance banning pit bulls as a whole, and at the April 18 meeting, county counsel Dan Diepenbrock provided the board with two resolutions – one for vicious dogs and the other for the regulation of pit bulls.
Diepenbrock said the proposed vicious dog law is essentially the same as one adopted by the City of Elkhart.
“I did not really make many changes other than changing ‘city’ to ‘county,’” he said. “I believe I may have made some other changes just to make it make sense because we’re a county not a city, but I did not make any substantive changes. I have received some comments since these have been placed in your packet.”
Diepenbrock said commissioners could adopt one or both of the laws, a suggestion commissioner Doug LaFreniere finds cumbersome.
“One deals with vicious dogs, and the other one is the pit bulls,” he said. “You’re putting responsibilities on the administrator to issue out. It’s just cumbersome. It’s not going to be enforced.”
Diepenbrock argued that this was the intent of the resolutions, but LaFreniere said if this is the case, the board should not have repealed the orignal ordinance banning pit bulls. He pointed to a $50 registration and putting microchips in place to track the dog and said this is similar to having a ban.
“You’re right back to where the administrator’s got to hold a hearing on whether or not it’s a pit bull,” LaFreniere said. “My question is – is this really how you perceive this?”
LaFreniere said the county would basically be in the same position it was with the original pit bull ban.
“You’re not asking someone with a German shepard to get a microchip,” he said. “It’s discontinuous to repeal a breed specific ban and come out with a resolution that’s breed specific.”
Diepenbrock said the proposed pit bull resolution only imposes restrictions and is not a total ban. Some commissioners, including C.J. Wettstein, said any law that is adopted needs to include a clause banning dog fighting. Diepenbrock said such a ban is already in place with the state, and having one at the local level limits the power of enforcement.
“If a state statute applies to every county uniformly, which the dog fighting one does, you might get some objection claiming you don’t have the home rule power to tinker essentially with the state ban,” he said. “I think you could argue that the state ban does not address impounding the dog or destroying the dog. You could argue that essentially this is a separate issue. That could be added to the pit bull part of the resolution.”
Wettstein said he would likewise like a clause which disallows dog owners to take a vicious dog to another county which does not have such a law.
“I think we ought to just fix it to where they’re destroyed if they’re deemed a vicious dog,” Wettstein said. “The problem we have out in the county is if people decide they don’t want their dog after they buy it, they come out and dump the dogs off in the county, and we just have to shoot them. I don’t think we should leave it to where we can say it’s a vicious dog in Seward County, but if you take it to Meade County, it’ll be OK. I think we should have it in there that if they’re determined a vicious dog, they need to be destroyed.”
Diepenbrock said he was tasked with finding a resolution that would fit for the county.
“I haven’t found a county that has such a resolution,” he said. “This came from the City of Springfield (Mo.).”
The proposed pit bull resolution contains language which puts the county administrator in control of hearings dealing with issues. Diepenbrock said that position is the one that made the most sense.
“I put the county administrator in there because I doubt the county clerk wanted to do it,” he said. “I know the sheriff doesn’t want to do it. If you’re going to do that, you need to decide how.”
Diepenbrock said Springfield had a total ban of pit bulls in place in 2004, and in 2006, an ordinance similar to the one he proposed for those dogs was adopted in that city. The attorney read a portion of the law adopted in Springfield.
“The public safety and welfare of the citizens of Springfield is threatened by the increase in the number of attacks by vicious dogs, the majority of which are from pit bull dogs,” he said. “Since the amendment of Chapter 18 in May 2004, which I think was the total ban, 25 cases dealing with vicious dog attacks have been filed with the prosecutor’s office. Sixteen of those cases have dealt with pit bull dogs or pit bull mixes.”
Those numbers were from 2004 to 2006.
“You’ve got a relatively small percentage of dogs committing 64 percent of the attacks,” Diepenbrock said. “That’s what you’re dealing what. It’s going to take some work. It’s going to take additional paperwork. It’s going to take a lot of work and money and expense on behalf of the owner, but that’s up to you whether you want to impose that. If you don’t, you’re going to have a vicious dog resolution, and the only recourse you’re going to have is when it is reported that a dog is vicious. It’s only going to kick in when there is a dangerous situation that for some reason hasn’t caused any harm yet.”
Commissioner Ada Linenbroker said she believes dog owners need to take responsibility
“They’ve got to have some rules,” she said. “The thing about putting the chips in, that’s going to be the only way the sheriff’s going to be able to fully prove. You can have a dog attack somebody, and the guy says ‘That’s not my dog.’”
Linenbroker said while she does not feel dogs need to be registered every year, having a chip in place gives law enforcement a record of the dog.
“We’ve got to make it so that the people are going to be responsible,” she said. “If they follow the rules, they can still have their dogs, but it shouldn’t be up to everybody else whether their dogs are running free or not.”
Commission chairman Jim Rice, who along with Linenbroker voted against repealing the original pit bull ban, said he stands by that vote.
“I think that resolution with the complete ban would go a long ways in solving this whole thing, but we’ll continue this debate and see what we come out with,” he said.
The commission will host a work session at a later date to consider what should be done with both pit bulls and vicious dogs. LaFreniere said the difficulty of the issue will be determined by board members themselves.
“This is going to be just as complicated as we want to make it,” he said. “That’s the long and short of it, but I’m pretty confident we’ll find middle ground.”