There's a great news coming out of Lincoln, NE this week -- but not all of the news is in the headlines.
City officials in Lincoln, NE are mulling changes to their dangerous dog laws -- but breed specific ones won't be a part of it.
"We can look at breed specific banning all we want, but the core issue is the irresponsible pet owner," said Bruce Dart of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
Well, it looks like they're at least going to target the correct species. They have several ideas on the table (several will work quite well) that I'll talk about in a bit. But the sidebar item really caught my eye. It's the number of dog bites in Lincoln by year since 2004:
2009: 300 (10 months into the fiscal -- on pace for 360)
Notice a trend? Yip. Going down pretty dramatically. 2008 is a 24% drop from 2004. It will be 36% if they hit what they're on pace for this year. It's amazing what can happen when a city focuses on ownership issues vs dog breeds what can happen with dog bite numbers. Yeah - focusing on the irresponsible owners, works.
This decrease has come, incidentally, at a time when the population of Lincoln has been growing pretty rapidly (up 12% since 2000). Meanwhile, a nearby city like Council Bluffs, IA, which has been focusing its efforts on dog breeds, instead of owners. Likewise, neighboring Omaha has recently seen its share of troubles following the passing of breed specific legislation late last year. But Lincoln, who insists on focusing on owners, is seeing their bites go down.
See folks, focusing on owners, who are the real problem, works.
Meanwhile, there are several ideas the city is kicking around -- so here they are, and my thoughts on each:
1) Citing owners if their dogs run loos and aggressively approach people. While, in general, I like ordinances that can deem a dog aggressive that really is aggressive even before it is involved in a bite incident, I think this one can be very bad for dog owners if there is not a good appeals system built into the law. Most ordinary citizens are not very knowledgable about canine behavior and aren't all that good at recognizing an approach that really is "aggressive" vs just an approach. And often, size/breed of dog can sway people's thoughts on whether they felt threatened or not. But as long as there is a good and proper evaluation and appeals system that involves real experts, this one could work well.
2) Charging repeat offenders with being "reckless owners" and impounding animals if animal ordinances are violated three times within 24 months. Every city should have a law like this. In most cities, it is typically the same few negligent owners that cause the majority of the problems and finding a way to deal with these negligent owners should be a top priority. As long as this is reasonably written and enforced I think it's a great law. I just think it needs to be considered that there should be a difference between a Beagle that digs under the fence a couple times and having dogs that bite or if animals are cruelly or neglectfully treated.
3) Citing owners the first time their dog bites someone. Obviously this makes a lot of sense if the bite is severe enough to warrant it...and as long as small nips and scratches and the like are excluded. No all bites are aggressive behaviors. What dog owner hasn't been 'bitten' when playing with their dog -- either roughhousing or playing with a ball or something?
4) Increasing fines for having dogs at large, menacing and biting. I don't know what the current fines are, but yeah, fining people for problem dogs makes sense. I'm pretty tolerant of the dog-at-large thing on a first time basis....most dogs get out once in a while. The at-large fines need to be for frequent problems...
5) Giving animal control authority to seize dogs perceived as threats until the issue is resolved. There are certainly some potential Constitutionality issues here, but yeah, if a dog is majorly aggressive, I can see why they'd want this. Even Dart admits this one is going to be tricky.
6) Requiring dogs to be physically restrained while outside on the owner's property. I'm not a fan of these laws. If I'm outside on my porch, or deck ,or whatever, and my dog is outside with me and completely voice responsive, what difference does this make? In fact, I think this one is punishing the people most who have worked the hardest to train their dog to be voice responsive and not run off. Increase the fines for the "problems" so that people will know not to take chances with a dog that really isn't voice responsive...but don't punish people who are doing right by their dogs.
7) Requiring owners to have homeowners or renter's insurance as part of licensing. This seems like a good way to make what is probably already really low licensing compliance even lower. Most people who have homes already have home owners insurance (which will cover the dog in case something does happen). Renters are not as reliable with this. I could make a case for this one -- but in the end, think that it will just discourage licensing which will be a net loss for the city.
8) Revising the definition of acceptable restraint to no longer include all doors and windows because dogs can break through screens. I get where they're going with this, but this would essentially eliminate the possibility of me leaving my windows open during the spring on my house while my dogs were inside. I just don't see any way that this is a winner.
9) Mandating spay/neuter - This is one of my most blogged about topics...it just doesn't work.
10) Requiring dogs declared dangerous or potentially dangerous to wear warnings on collars or harnesses. If I get close enough to read it, it's probably too late for me. But honestly, if the dog has done something to make it deemed aggressive, I have no problem with the dog being forced to wear an orange collar or something so people know. You don't want the collar? Make sure you don't let your dog earn it.
Again, I'll note, at least they're talking about the right topics in Lincoln. There is a lot to be said for that. Hopefully they'll take a hard look at all of these items and make good choices that won't overcomplicate their system -- which already seems to be working pretty well for them in causing a decrease in dog bites.