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City sees no reason to get too ruff with dog rules

Revised ordinance relaxes or lift several previous limits

Feb. 28, 2011

New Berlin — Dutiful dogs are now allowed to run free, leaving their leashes hanging on pegs at home.

In relaxing various elements of its dog ordinance, New Berlin will not only let dogs under voice control off their leads, but, under certain conditions, will allow families to have an unlimited number of dogs and even to keep dangerous dogs.

Until now, owners of dogs declared dangerous had to get rid of them. The city also could order people to get rid of dogs that chase cars or annoy people by howling or barking.

And, instead of having a maximum of four dogs, people can now have as many dogs as they want if they obtain a dog fanciers permit, license each dog and make sure they do not annoy neighbors. Dog fanciers permits are new with the new ordinance.

What about the leash?

But Alderman William Moore, who cast the only vote on the Common Council against the new ordinance, says the city should keep the leash.

"Somebody could say my dog is under my supervision, but it could be jumping on people or defecating in people's yards," Moore said.

If that happens, the owner could be fined for having a dog at large, said Alderwoman Deena Liska, who is chairwoman of the Dog Ordinance Ad Hoc Committee that developed the revisions. The moment a dog refuses to return to the owner at voice command, it is at large, she said.

But the person who is jumped on or licked would have to call a cop for any fine to be levied.

Moore would rather the problem did not come up at all, something he feels could be accomplished by keeping dogs on their leashes.

Dangerous dogs

He also wants to keep the part of the old ordinance that said people have to get rid of dangerous dogs.

A dangerous dog is defined in the new ordinance as having inflicted severe bodily harm on a person or a domestic animal without provocation or extenuating circumstances. Severe bodily harm is defined as including cuts requiring stitches, a broken bone, a concussion or temporary loss of consciousness, sight or hearing, or loss or breakage of a tooth.

"Why should a dangerous dog still be allowed to be kept in the city?" Moore asked. "I'd be worried about the owners or visitors to the house."

In the end the consensus was, "If we ban dangerous dogs, it doesn't solve the problem; it just pushes it off onto another community," Liska said.

"We struggled with this as a committee," she acknowledged.

The new ordinance contains safeguards for keeping dangerous dogs under control that should be enough to protect the public, Liska said. If owners do not abide by those rules, the dog can be captured and ultimately euthanized, under the new ordinance.

The safeguards call for owners to have an identification microchip implanted in the dogs and to keep them either indoors or outside in a locked pen or structure that young children cannot get into. Underground electronic fences are not sufficient to contain these dogs, under the new ordinance.

Dangerous dogs can only be walked on a 4-foot leash and with a muzzle.

'Potentially dangerous' dogs

A category of potentially dangerous dog is established in the new ordinance for dogs that menace, chase or display threatening behavior which endangers the safety of a person or a domestic animal. Again, no provocation or special circumstances can be involved.

A potentially dangerous dog would have to be walked on a leash and could not be let outside, even in its own yard, without adult supervision. Underground fences are not allowed for potentially dangerous dogs, either.

A dog can have its potentially dangerous designation lifted by completing the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen course, with its owner, or by going 18 months without another incident.

Too many dogs?

Lifting the cap of four dogs also is seen as a mistake by Moore.

"There should have been a limit on the number, even for dog fanciers, just to head off any problems," Moore said.

But there could be a good reason why people want more than four dogs, such as raising them for hunting or as show dogs, Liska said.

If having so many dogs becomes a problem for neighbors or the dogs themselves in terms of sanitary conditions, the city can revoke the dog fanciers permit, Liska said, "And they'll be back to four dogs like everybody else."

Instead of ordering people to get rid of dogs that chase cars or annoy people by howling or barking, owners are required to pay a fine, under the new ordinance.

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