Council rewrites pit bull ordinance

by nathan oster

The Greybull Town Council has scrapped its controversial pit bull ordinance on the recommendation of the town’s animal control officer, who stated during its meeting last week that he’d been inundated with phone calls and e-mails from people who opposed the change.

“From all the comments I received, I want you all to know that I did listen,” said Doug Youngerman, the animal control officer. “We went viral I think, because I heard from people from New York to California — and everywhere in between.”

Youngerman, the staunchest proponent of the ordinance amendment last month, urged the council not to pass it on second reading, citing the will of the people and his support for a revised ordinance, which was given first reading by the council in the night.

Youngerman’s comments came during the public comment portion of the Nov. 12 meeting.  Local residents had packed the council chambers, wanting to address their concerns about the proposal.  Youngerman’s statement took some of the bite out of their commentary — although six people did raise questions and/or voice concerns.

Saying he was concerned about public safety, Youngerman in October pitched the new ordinance as a way of addressing the pit bull problem in Greybull.  It would have done several things, among them requiring pit bull owners to keep their pit bull “indoors, in a securely enclosed and locked pen or kennel approved by the town’s animal control officer or in a fenced area approved by the animal control officer, except when leashed.” As it was written, the proposed ordinance would have required pit bulls that are not confined to be on a leash no longer than 4 feet and muzzled at all times, it would required pit bull owners to provide the animal control officer with two color photos of their pet, to post signs on his or her property, warning passers-by that there is a pit bull on the property, and provide the town with proof of public liability insurance in a single amount of $250,000 for bodily injury to or death of any person or persons.

The council gave that ordinance a first reading in October, in part to initiate a dialogue with the community.  What it got in the weeks that ensued was very one sided, with virtually no one voicing support.

That included the meeting, where questions were raised about the kennel definition — Youngerman clarified that in the eyes of the town, it’s four animals of the same species — and about the process of passing the ordinance.  Mayor Bob Graham stated that by killing the ordinance on second reading, the town would essentially be starting the process over.

Bruce Wiley, a local dentist, had some of the most pointed criticism of the ordinance.  He called on the town to reject it and said any new proposal should not single out any one breed because studies have shown that virtually all dogs have the potential to kill or injure — and have done so at some point in time.

He added that if that’s the standard, perhaps other “lethal pets” such as horse, cats, pigs, pythons, lizards, tarantulas, spiders, fireants … and even fawn deer should added to the list. Each has caused a death somewhere, he said.

The council also heard from a man who didn’t like the part about requiring pit bull owners to take out a $250,000 insurance policy.

Council members didn’t challenge any of the speakers and when the ordinance came up for second reading, they rejected it, just as they said they would.

Later in the night, they gave first reading to a revised ordinance, one that does not include mention of any one breed but rather focuses on clear definitions for “potentially dangerous/dangerous dogs” and “vicious dogs.”

A vicious dog, the new ordinance states, “shall include any dog which attacks, rushes, bites, snaps or snarls or in any manner menaces any person, vehicle, or animal outside the premises of the owner or keeper or does so to any person, vehicle or animal where the same are lawfully entitled to be or shows any plausible tendency to do so without provocation.”

A “potentially dangerous dog” or “dangerous dog” shall include “any dog that, when unprovoked, engages in any behavior that requires a defensive action, to prevent bodily injury, by any person who is outside of the premises of the owner or keeper or who is lawfully entitled to be on the premises of the owner or keeper.”

The ordinance now on the table would require any owner of a potentially dangerous dog to register the dog with the town clerk within five days of that determination or as otherwise ordered by the municipal judge.  All such dogs would be required to be licensed, vaccinated, microchipped by the animal control office and have an approved tag affixed to its collar.

All dangerous dogs shall be maintained in a separate register by the town clerk.

The owner of a dangerous dog may have the dog removed from the register provided there has been no further actions by the dog as described in the ordinance for 36-month period, the dog has died or is permanently removed from the town.

The new ordinance does include a stipulation that the owner of a dangerous dog “shall provide proof to the town clerk that there is in full force and effect a homeowners or renters liability policy with a single incident coverage of at least $250,000 for bodily injury or liability to any person which may arise as a result of the owning, keeping or maintaining such dog.”

In terms of confinement, the ordinance reads as follows:

“All dangerous dogs shall be kept or maintained in a securely confined yard or approved change link kennel or other kennel approved by the animal control officer.

“All dangerous dogs shall be on a leash no more than 4 feet in length and which will prevent the dog from escaping, muzzled sufficiently to prevent the dog from biting and under the direct control of an adult person.

“The owner of a dangerous dog shall display, in a prominent location, a sign, approved by the animal control officer, warning the public that a dangerous or vicious dog is located on the owner’s premises.

“The owner of a dangerous dog shall provide to the animal control officer sufficient photos of the dog, which show the physical characteristics of the dog, within 10 days of a conviction or as otherwise ordered by the municipal judge.”

Vicious dogs won’t be allowed at all, as the ordinance makes it “unlawful to own, harbor or keep” a dog that fits that description.