PRO: Pit bulls need to be controlled better

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 1, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 1, 2012 at 11:02 p.m.

Although it is illegal to ban specific breed dogs in Texas, some cities found a loophole to the law by targeting aggressive, dangerous or vicious animals.

Fort Worth's animal ordinance requires a 60-inch tall fence for aggressive and large breed dogs compared with a 48-inch fence for others. Austin, Houston and San Antonio require pet owners to purchase liability insurance for aggressive dogs. Carrollton limits the number of dogs a person may own to three.

Some Victoria residents want to see similar ordinances enforced in their community to protect people against aggressive animals.

After the county's string of recent pit bull attacks and a personal encounter with one Sunday, Belinda Gonzales, 36, of Victoria, said something needs to change.

"People shouldn't be allowed to own them," she said.

On March 25, a dog notorious for getting out of its fence confronted Gonzales' 4-year-old son, A.J., she said.

She called the police.

"You'd think the city would say, 'Get them out.' How many lives is it going to take for them to do something?" she asked.

She remembers watching in horror as the dog charged at her toddler, who was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.

"That dog was right there in his face," she said.

A couple trimming trees nearby intervened and took her son to safety. But when Gonzales was on the phone with the dispatcher, she was told that nothing could or would be done because no one was physically harmed.

"A stranger did more for my son than the cops did," she said.

Heather Kern, assistant supervisor at Victoria County Animal Control, said because officers did not witness the animal loose, they legally could not cite the owner or pick up the dog.

"There's not a lot we can do," she said. "For us to issue a citation for a dog running at large, we have to see it."

Animal control, the police department and the sheriff's office have the power to issue citations for animal ordinances.

Last year, animal control issued 25 citations and seven written warnings to animal owners. Most of the citations were for running-at-large, Kern said.

The agency issued 31 citations and 10 warnings in 2010.

In Austin/Travis County, elected officials are taking an aggressive approach, modeled after a state law, to dealing with aggressive animals.

According to Austin's program and the state health code, behavior, not breed, defines a dangerous dog.

If the dog has aggressive traits, owners in Austin must take out a $100,000 liability insurance policy. If the dog attacks a person or another animal, the owner must register it and then restrain the dog at all times in an enclosure or by someone who can restrain it and the dog should wear large tags stating they are dangerous.

If the dog attacks again, it could be seized and euthanized.

Lt. Mike Parsons, of Austin/Travis County Animal Services, said the program has been successful.

"When my first Travis County cases started going to court and the word got out, people got a little more responsible about the control of their animals," Parsons said. "Most of the people who are responsible will keep their animals under control."

If they were a little lackadaisical pet owners, they improved, he said.

"We are not going after breed. It doesn't matter what breed it is," Parsons said. "We're going after the owner because ultimately they're the ones making decisions about the animals, they're the ones who need to be held responsible, they're the only ones who can change what's happening with that animal."

He said all communities should adopt provisions of that health code into their own ordinances or regulations to control dangerous dogs.

"It does have an impact on the community, but that impact is on your law-abiding community that usually will obey laws when they're notified about them," he said.

Gonzales said she believes there have been too many instances of dogs turning on humans in the Victoria area.

"All of these pit bull attacks, regardless if they're tame or nice or babies, it's in their blood to kill," Gonzales said. "They can turn on you."

She wants to see local policies change.

"Is it going to take me or my kid to get killed before they'll do something about it?" she asked. "If it would have attacked me, I would have had a chance, but what about my 4-year-old. It could have been me in the newspaper with my son."



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