Below is an email sent by Pets Alive to the Middletown Council to consider instead of a city wide insurance requirement for renters. We hope that they might consider this option instead of the current plan, or working in conjunction WITH the insurance plan:
In regards to the issue in Middletown with the problem owners of problem dogs. I think that we are actually on the exact same page about this. I believe in reading the PDF you posted originally that it doesn’t explain the real issue at stake, and contrary to the mayor’s opinion, we are far from naïve about the issues involving dogs in cities. If we are going to be honest and upfront about this here – you have some irresponsible citizens using dogs to intimidate, threaten and wreck havoc in your city. Terrorizing neighbors, making it difficult to do inspections or deal safely with public issues in those areas.
You asked for a possible solution. I’ve come up with an idea that I’d like to have you all review.
Please forgive me for the convoluted nature of it. It is just in the “thinking” stages right now, which is why I didn’t voice it last night. It would need some major fleshing out, but maybe this is a possible solution.
It seems to be that you have the majority of Middletown residents that are law abiding, responsible people. You also have a fair share of “issue people” with “issue dogs”. How many would you estimate? 50? 100? 150? How many would you honestly say are the problem people in the city? I have no idea what the number would be but I think it would be a fair guess that it is not 95% of the population.
While I think the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) test has some merit, this is again having your RESPONSIBLE pet owners have to go and get this testing done on their perfectly good dogs to prove and show they are decent people with decent pets. I do like this idea though as a way to be exempted if you choose to still go with the forced insurance plan. Good people and good dogs should have a way of being excluded from having to be penalized for doing nothing wrong.
The “issue people” aren’t going to go for this test and you feel then they would go and get insurance. I would guess though that you’re wrong. I would guess that they would get dogs and not tell landlords, that if caught they will say the dog isn’t their’s, that they are minding it, or that they just found it…they will dump the animal, wait a month and get another one.
Years ago I was in a car accident. The driver ran a red light. He was drunk. He had a suspended drivers license and he had no insurance. Running a red light is illegal. Driving while intoxicated is illegal. Driving with a suspended license is illegal. Having a car with no insurance is illegal. Yet there we were. The law abiding citizens will obey your laws. The others – WON’T. You may catch and enforce this on a few people but I truly believe this isn’t going to solve your problem in the city and it certainly won’t stop the bites and threatening dogs. They will all still be there – just with insurance.
What about if you JUST focused on the problem people and the problem dogs.
ONLY on them?
How about instituting a complaint system.
Someone gets three complaints (or whatever number the city determines to be realistic) about their dog (even if by the same complaintent) with three incidents reported, then that dog MUST go for a temperament test. A summons that an ACO or a police officer could write that mandates a behavior evaluation.
The “incident” would NOT have to be a bite. Don’t wait that long!!! ANY person can file a complaint about a dog for anything they deem threatening. Such as lunging at them. Lunging at their dog. Snapping or growling as they walk through their own hallways.
Once three complaints are filed (or whatever number you feel responsible), then that dog MUST go for a temperament test (or perhaps attend a CGC class instead?).
Pets Alive has one of the top three canine behaviorists in the country. His name is Pat Whitacre and he was the dog trainer from the National Geographic show DogTown. We can ask him to do these evaluations. He can then code the evaluations for you as RED (potentially dangerous and/or unpredictable), YELLOW (may need caution, a muzzle or can be pushed to react) or GREEN (non-issue dog).
If the dog is a RED, then that owner MUST then get the insurance you mandate, must keep the dog muzzled at all times when in public, perhaps pay a “retainer” to the city in case of a bite, or would need to surrender the dog.
If the dog is YELLOW then this should be at the discretion of the city how to handle and perhaps each yellow dog can be reviewed on a case by case basis by anyone you see fit (and we would also be happy to help with this, make the recommendation, or turn it over to someone in your city to make that decision). Perhaps YELLOW dogs would also require the insurance, or perhaps a muzzle in public depending on WHY they were yellow (for instance are they yellow because they hate other dogs? Are they yellow because if really pushed they MAY react by snapping or biting (but are generally ok if not provoked), or are they yellow because they are particularly fearful or shy and therefore their reactions may differ in different situations).
GREEN would mean the dog seems to have no issues, and could not be provoked into a dangerous reaction.
Perhaps you can have the owner pay a $50 fee for these evaluations, and the city would take a $25 administrative fee and Pets Alive would be paid a $25 eval fee (or whatever fee you feel appropriate). If not Pets Alive, then some other organization that is qualified to do temperament testing but you also must be careful because you have two schools of dog/rescue people out there – you will have the ones that want to pass all the dogs and you have the ones that will fail many of the dogs for impractical causes. The dog world can be a crazy place. I will promise you that Pets Alive and our trainers would be 100% on board with our evaluations for you. We WANT these dogs off the street. We WANT to see these people not be allowed to have dogs. We hate that they can mistreat and use dogs in this manner and we are deeply upset to think about children living in fear in their own homes, or being mauled by an animal. But equally we want to make sure that the dog is fairly evaluated and since we have one of the best behaviorists in the country right here it seems silly to not use him. However, that would be up to you, we merely volunteer our support and help in this, if we can.
Potential Problems with this idea:
The “crazies”. You are going to have some people that just hate dogs and will file erroneous complaints about every dog they see. Perhaps a way to solve this would be that if the dog turns out to be GREEN then THEY are required to pay the testing fee of $50. After a few of these stack up they won’t be so quick to complain about every single dog in the neighborhood.
What constitutes a complaint: The city would need to be clear on what can be complained about. This is about threatening dogs. This is not about dogs peeing on bushes that the city cut too short (smile) or defecation on the lawn that wasn’t cleaned up. Complaints need to be specific as to the feeling of being threatened or damaged in some way by the dog or the person with the dog.
Legality: I have no idea if you can FORCE someone to get a temperament test on their dog or force them to ONLY get it at a pre-approved City of Middletown place. Would they legally be allowed to bring the dog to any place that conducts such testing? Can they be required to pay? Perhaps this solution of temperament testing would be offered as an option or they would THEN fall under your other insurance law. “Do this. Or buy the insurance” ?
Liability to Pets Alive and the City of Middletown: I’m a little anxious about offering the temperament testing because of liability issues. If we rate a dog a green and that dog then bites someone, can this come back to “bite us both in the butt”? Can the city and Pets Alive be sued? Or can each rating go with a clause stating that neither the city or Pets Alive guarantee these temperament tests to be accurate, or something to that effect? Because even GREEN dogs might potentially bite in the right situation and dogs by their very nature can be unpredictable in any circumstance. Wording would need to be in place to protect Pets Alive (or whoever was doing the testing) and the City of Middletown for a lawsuit stemming from this.
– See more at: http://petsalive.com/blog/2012/04/05/pets-alive-dog-ordinance-proposal-to-the-middletown-council/#sthash.NILOIdCg.dpuf