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Breed-specific laws do not prevent animal attacks

A recent animal attack resulting in the death of 5-year old Tanner Smith, of Vidor, has citizens questioning current ordinances concerning dogs.

Smith and his mother were visiting friends, when he was attacked while the Pit Bulls were in their fenced in domain.

According to ordinances passed by the Commissioners Court in 1991 and 1996, are dogs that are not on the owner’s property or owner’s control are considered ‘at large’. To comply with the ordinance, a dog must be in a dog proof fence or on a leash at all times.

The ordinance covers all of Orange County.

The ordinance also requires owners of dangerous dogs to register the animal with the Orange County rabies and animal control authority within 30 days, and to restrain the dog at all times by leash or in a secure enclosure as well has having insurance or financial responsibility in the amount of at least $100,000 to cover damages from an attack by the dangerous dog.

While the case concerning Tanner Smith is an open and active case until all results and facts are reviewed, it does not appear there will be any criminal charges, according to a press release.

Dogs permitted by their owners to run loose, and dogs who attack people or other animals, are real and often serious problems in communities across the country—but how to best address dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs can be a confusing and touchy issue, according to the ASPCA.

“Breed-specific” legislation (BSL) is the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain breeds completely in the hopes of reducing dog attacks. Some city/municipal governments have enacted breed-specific laws. However, the problem of dangerous dogs will not be remedied by the “quick fix” of breed-specific laws—or, as they should truly be called, breed-discriminatory laws.

It is worth noting that in some areas, regulated breeds include not just American Pit Bull terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, English Bull Terriers and Rottweilers, but also a variety of other dogs, including American Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, or any mix of these breeds—and dogs who simply resemble these breeds.

Many states, including New York, Texas and Illinois, favor laws that identify, track and regulate dangerous dogs individually, regardless of breed, and prohibit BSL, according to the ASPCA.

Following a thorough study of human fatalities resulting from dog bites, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decided not to support BSL. The CDC cited, among other problems, the inaccuracy of dog bite data and the difficulty in identifying dog breeds, especially true of mixed-breed dogs. The CDC also noted the likelihood that as certain breeds are regulated, those who exploit dogs by making them aggressive will replace them with other, unregulated breeds.

In the aforementioned study, the CDC noted that many other factors beyond breed may affect a dog’s tendency toward aggression—things such as heredity, sex, early experience, reproductive status, socialization and training. These last two concerns are well-founded, given that:

  • More than 70 percent of all dog bite cases involve unneutered male dogs.
  • An unneutered male dog is 2.6 times more likely to bite than is a neutered dog.
  • A chained or tethered dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than a dog who is not chained or tethered.
  • 97 percent of dogs involved in fatal dog attacks in 2006 were not spayed/neutered:
  • 78 percent were maintained not as pets, but rather for guarding, image enhancement, fighting or breeding.
  • 84 percent were maintained by reckless owners—these dogs were abused or neglected, not humanely controlled or contained, or allowed to interact with children unsupervised.

Recognizing that the problem of dangerous dogs requires serious attention, the ASPCA seeks effective enforcement of breed-neutral laws that hold dog owners accountable for the actions of their animals.

Orange Fire Chief David Frenzel said people should be aware around strange animals.

“In Orange, there are leash laws,” Frenzel said. “A dog must be on a leash or behind a fence so the owners can keep control.”

Education is the key to preventing animal bites according to Frenzel.

“Educate children,” Frenzel said. “Don’t go into another’s yard where they are protecting their territory.”

In 2014, there were 46 dog bites reported in the city of Orange. The number is down slightly thus far with only 30 dog bites reported so far this year.

“I have seen a lot of animal bites of children over the years, some disfiguring a child,” Frenzel said. “In 2015, it should be unheard of for a death of a child.”