The Town Council will look to past research and state laws in determining whether “vicious dogs” should be addressed in a local ordinance.
At the urging of a constituent, Town Councilor Bob Parisi asked that the council’s ordinance committee take up the subject Thursday night. The definition of a vicious dog was not discussed, but Parisi said the constituent, who did not attend the meeting and wasn’t named, was attacked on two occasions by the same dog while walking in his neighborhood. The dog bit the man in his leg and arm, Parisi said.
“His concern was that one of these nights he was going to bring his daughter for a walk,” he said. “That could have made for a very unpleasant situation.”
After a short discussion, the committee asked Corporation Counsel Janis Small to look at past research done by the town. Small was also asked to look at how state laws cover the issue. In the past, Small said, she found that the state prohibits the town from adopting a breed-specific ordinance.
She also found that the state has a nuisance law. Under the law, a dog that has a vicious disposition or barks obsessively can earn its owner an infraction after the first complaint and a misdemeanor after the second. Another law regarding roaming states that if a dog has a vicious propensity and the owner is aware, and the dog attacks someone, the owner can be liable to pay a $1,000 fine or serve six months in jail.
“There are some serious penalties out there,” Small said. “The council wouldn’t have the authority to do any such thing.”
Small said that she will look to see if state laws have changed at all since the council last discussed the topic in 2009.
About five years ago the council discussed the same topic, but never adopted an ordinance. Research presented by the town’s animal control officer at the time showed a certain breed of dog can’t be classified as vicious, said Town Councilor Craig Fishbein. There isn’t a need for an ordinance, he said, because there are civil penalties that can result from dog attacks.
But the victim should not have to bear the burden of retaining legal counsel if they are attacked by a dog, Parisi said. The town should be held partially responsible, he said.
“There are all kinds of rules and regulations that cover this, but if you’re not enforcing them you get nothing,” Parisi said. “The problem is not enforced.”
When the topic was brought up years ago, the animal control officer represented that there is enough language in state statue “to empower her to do what she needed to do if there is an incident,” said Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni.
Town Councilor Vinny Testa said he first brought the idea of a vicious dog ordinance up five years ago. His approach wasn’t meant to be specific though, he said. “I thought it would be useful defining what a vicious dog is based on behavior.”
But the police chief and animal control officer told the council that the issue is already covered by state law, Testa said. “It’s a matter of using laws in place.”
Parisi said the police were called in the two dog-biting incidents that spurred the discussion, but he did not know how the situation was resolved.
Town Councilor Christine Mansfield suggested having Animal Control Officer Katie Ehlers make a presentation to the council. She was hired about a year ago. Town Councilor John LeTourneau agreed. But Fishbein, who chairs the committee, said he felt more should be heard from the constituent who contacted Parisi before Ehlers is questioned. Fishbein asked Parisi to try and convince the constituent to come before the council.
The issue was tabled until next month’s committee meeting.