6/27/97 THANKS TO WARREN WEBER for Forwarding the following:

MUZZLE UP, Richmond Heights,Ohio targets vicious dog ordinance to pit bull terriers

Council has tightened the leash on vicious dogs.

Council members voted Tuesday to make the city's vicious dog ordinance breed-specific, describing pit bulls as vicious dogs. In addition, pit bull owners must register their dogs with the city and carry a $200,000 liability insurance policy.

The new legislation includes "any pit bull terrier, which shall herein defined as any Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed of dog or any mixed breed of dog which contains as an element of its breeding the Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier as to be identifiable as partially of the breed of Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier".

Council members already had legislation on the books which defined a vicious dog as one "with a propensity, tendency or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury or to otherwise endanger the safety of humans or domestic animals." Dogs raised for dog fighting were also described as vicious.

Vicious dogs, which now include all pit bulls, must be kept confined in the owner's yard. A pen or dog run area must have sides eight feet high or a secure top. If dogs are taken off the property, the dog must be muzzled and restrained.

If a dog owner violates the rules, he can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. A second offense can be punishable with a misdemeanor charge and a $1,000 fine.

A coordinating resolution allows a law enforcement officer to impound any dog that is allegedly involved in an attack incident. The dog shall be kept in an animal shelter at least ten days if no charges are filed or until it is acquitted. The owner of the offender must also pay all expenses associated with the city holding the dog.

Councilman Lee Gase said he felt the city's vicious dog legislation was not strong enough. He said he wants to see pit bulls and Rottweilers banned within city limits and does not want to wait until an attack occurs to keep vicious dogs out of the city.

Council member Doreen Shell said there was plenty of evidence supporting the fact that pit bulls are vicious dogs.

"If someone who lived near me had one (a pit bull), I would be nervous every day of my life," she said.

Councilman Joe Russell suggested raising the insurance liability from $50,000 to $200,000, since $50,000 would not cover costs if an accident occured. Gase said preparing in case of an attack was not the answer.

Safety committee chairwoman Kathryn Gambatese, who introduced the legislation, said it was a step in the right direction.

"Even the residents who voiced their concerns originally would be content with the legislation as it is presented," she said. "I don't believe it was their intent to ban dogs."

The issue was brought forth to council members early this year by residents concerned about having pit bulls in their neighborhoods with small children. A number of residents were on hand during a spring committee meeting to urge council members to support the legislation.

There were also several people who opposed the breed-specific legislation, claiming that all dogs are capable of attacks. Those opposed to the legislation suggested that the responsibility from all dog owners is the most crucial part of public safety.

Gambatese, who heads the safety committee, said some residents were intimidated by the large number of non-residents who showed up at the meetings to oppose the legislation. Many such speakers were from kennel clubs and animal rights groups.