Under an Omaha law passed in 2008, dogs can be declared "potentially dangerous" if they bite someone, or, if they are one of 9 different breeds of dogs declared "potentially dangerous" under Omaha law. Once declared "potentially dangerous" the dog must be altered, microchipped and muzzled and licensed whenever they're out in public. They also must be licensed for $100 year and the dog owner has to take out a $100,000 insurance policy on the dog.
Biting dogs remain on the list for 2 years (the breeds of dogs forever), and if the dog has no other violations, they can come off the list if the owner pays another $200 to the city.
A couple of weeks ago, the city of Omaha, and the Nebraska Humane Society (which handles all animal control and sheltering for the city) began discussing removing the $200 fee to remove the dog from the list. The vote passed the city council 7-0.
This isn't the first time Omaha has had to tweak its overly broad, and overly harsh, dangerous dog ordinance. The ordinance was originally passed in 2008 following a major dog attack in the community. It was passed as an act of panic policy making after the tragic attack and the city ignored all canine experts and passed an overly broad, overly taxing law targeting all dog owners and even more specifically targeting owners of certain breeds of dogs. Previously, the council had reduced fines for dogs running at large from $300 to $100 because they realized it was causing some dog owners to not get their dogs from the shelter because they couldn't afford the high fees.
And it's good that the council continues to tweak the Dangerous Dog Ordinance -- because there are many other changes that need to be made to it -- which from the start was an over-reaching, costly, and bound-to-be-ineffective boondoggle.
According to the NHS VP of Field Operations Mark Langan, there are "hundreds" of "potentially dangerous" dogs in the city of Omaha. While many of these are potentially dangerous because of their bite history, a large number are on the list only based on their appearance because of the breed-specific clause in the law-- creating a huge issue of cost of enforcement, aribtrary breed determinations, and cost to dog owners in the city.
The ordinance has been a huge boon for the Nebraska Humane Society. Based on the NHS contract with the city, NHS receives 100% of the impound and licensing fees -- so the high numbers of citations and 'potentially dangerous dogs" is very financially rewarding for them. NHS also received a substantial increase if fees from the city of Omaha for enforcing the new ordinance (they received an annual increase of about $75,000 a year after the ordinance passed).
Meanwhile, the law itself, is not having a positive impact public safety in Omaha. While this was something that anyone could have easily forecasted 4 years ago when their new law was passed, the numbers have completely proved this out.
Here are the dog bite numbers in Omaha since 2006:
2006 - 916
2007 - 821
2008 - 808 (note, the new ordinance declaring 9 breeds of dogs "dangerous" passed in mid 2008). In June of 2008, the city was on pace to be 14% below their 2007 numbers, but in the back half of the year (after the ordinance passed), had 41 more dog bites than the year prior and ended with only a minor decrease for the year).
2009 - 875
2010 - 913
2011 - 834
So, in spite of the city paying more money for law enforcement, and in spite of the increased revenue received via high fines, high citations, and high licensing fees, the city has yet to have lower dog bites than the years prior to passing the ordinance. So increased cost, decreased public safety. Bravo.
Meanwhile, it's worth mentioning that in earlier reports, the top biting breeds of dogs in Omaha have traditionally been Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds -- neither of which is targeted by the breed-specific part of the city's ordinance. "Pit Bulls", which were targeted by the law, made up only about 14% of total dog bites. And while Langan and the rest of the NHS crew has said the ordinance was a success because 'pit bull' bites have gone down, their continued focus on 'pit bull' type dogs has allowed bites by all other non-restricted breeds to increase significantly.
The entire ordinance continues to be poorly thought-out, ineffective, and costly -- both to taxpayers and to dog owners. However, it has also been a financial boom for NHS -- who continues to reap financial rewards for the ordinance in spite of its ineffectiveness. It is time for Omaha to repeal the breed-specific part of its ordinance -- for the betterment of dog owners and for the betterment of public safety.