House bill would ban 'dangerous dog' regulations

Murrow News ServiceJanuary 16, 2014 

OLYMPIA -- If a new piece of Washington state legislation finds its way to the governor's desk, every dog may have its day.

House Bill 2117, heard this week before the House Judiciary Committee in Olympia, would ban regulations declaring a dog to be "dangerous" based on its breed.

The bill also would prohibit a dog's breed from being used as proof in the criminal prosecution of an owner whose dog severely injures or kills someone. It would also prevent local authorities from banning any dog breeds within their jurisdiction.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, is the bill's primary sponsor.

"This bill affects the lives of many, many families," she told the committee Tuesday, adding that discrimination against specific breeds does not solve the problem of dangerous dog attacks.

"Most any dog can be made vicious by irresponsible owners," Appleton said, "and most any dog can be made gentle by conscientious owners."

Appleton said a personal friend was attacked and disfigured by a beagle, a breed of dog usually not considered dangerous.

"We're talking now about Snoopy," she said. "Are we going to ban Snoopy?"

Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, is another of the bill's sponsors.

"I just don't fundamentally believe that any breed is genetically predisposed to violence," Reykdal told the Herald, adding that he believes it's a matter of humans making them violent.

"We used to have cock-fighting," he said. "Human beings used to get chickens and put them together and have them fight, but we would never declare chickens as violent creatures."

Elaine Allison, operations manager for the Benton-Franklin Humane Society in Kennewick, believes all dogs deserve to be treated the same regardless of breed.

"Visual identification is often inaccurate and subjugates dogs and owners to unrealistic expectations that are patently unfair," she told the Herald. "Scientific identification does not work either. There is no scientific data to support a claim that any breed of dog is inherently dangerous."

She said statistics show that Chihuahuas bite more people in the Tri-Cities than any other breeds.

"The Tri-Cities deserves to be safe from all breeds of dogs," she said. "There is a breed restriction in place here and it's time for it to change."

In the Mid-Columbia, Othello bans pit bulls while Kennewick, Pasco, Connell, Prosser, Grandview and Mattawa have laws declaring pit bulls dangerous or potentially dangerous and imposing specific restrictions.

Fourteen states already have outlawed breed-based dog bans, including Nevada, which passed a similar bill last year with nearly unanimous votes in its Legislature, Appleton said.

Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, who serves on the judiciary committee, told Appleton he agrees with most of the bill but asked her to consider amending it to allow local jurisdictions to retain control.

One of those jurisdictions is Yakima, which banned several types of pit bulls with a citywide ordinance in 1987.

Despite being challenged by critics as "constitutionally vague," the ordinance was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1989.

Enumclaw banned pit bulls in 1990, as did Royal City, which passed a dangerous dog law banning both pit bulls and rottweilers in 2007.

Appleton said telling someone they can't live in a city unless they get rid of their dog discriminates against owners and their dogs.

"We don't get rid of our children if they misbehave," she said, adding that in many instances, pets act as family or surrogate children, providing both comfort and protection. Breed-specific legislation is irresponsible, she said.

Seven people testified at the hearing, including Clear Lake resident Zak Thatcher, an emergency room nurse who brought her 3-year-old bull terrier, Ozymandias, to the hearing.

Thatcher thanked the committee for considering the legislation and reiterated that owners need to be held responsible for their dogs.

In the Tri-Cities, several dog attacks have taken place in recent years, including a December 2012 Kennewick incident in which two people, their dog and a sheriff's deputy were attacked by two pit bulls who were eventually euthanized.

Under state law, a dog is considered "dangerous" if it inflicts severe injury to a person or kills a domestic animal off its owner's property without provocation, or if the dog was found potentially dangerous in the past.

If a dog injured someone caught committing a crime or tormenting the animal, that dog cannot be declared dangerous.

-- Washington State University student Matt Benoit: 509-947-9277; mbenoit@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_

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