The city’s new dog ordinance language got its first test in the face of tragedy, just days after its adoption. On Sept. 12, a 3-year-old girl was mauled by a pit bull in her home. And the resulting action followed the law to the letter.
The girl, who was transported to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis with severe injuries to her face and arms, was playing in the living room of her home when the dog, owned by her mother’s boyfriend, attacked her. The adults were not in the room at the time of the incident, but the owner was able to stop the attack once he was alerted to it.
According to Jean McGroarty, director of the Kokomo Humane Society, animal control officers and the Kokomo Police Department reacted to the situation as the new ordinance requires. As a result, the pit bull is no longer in the home.
“Actually, the owner signed the dog over to us; it’s here at the shelter now,” said McGroarty. “It needs to be held for 10 days in quarantine, and after that we have been authorized to euthanize the dog.”
According to McGroarty, the ordinance requires that the dog be categorized as “vicious,” meaning it has aggressively bitten, attacked, endangered, severely injured, or killed a human being. A vicious dog may not be owned or harbored within the city limits.
“It is a serious issue,” said McGroarty. “You know, we’ve had more than a couple incidents in the past few weeks. All of a sudden, there seems to be more of these incidents, and we have to come down on the ownership of the animal. They are just not suitable to be in the community.”
McGroarty explained that the owner of the pit bull was not ticketed at the time of the incident, though the ordinance does allow for fines to be assessed when a dog attack occurs.
“It is hard with an owned animal in its own home to really make that call,” said McGroarty.
In the aftermath of the incident, McGroarty is pleased that the language added to the ordinance worked and that all parties involved complied. It is an indication that the changes enacted by the Kokomo Common Council on Sept. 8 will have a positive impact on animal control in the city.
“The requirements for those who have potentially dangerous and vicious dogs are more stringent,” said McGroarty. “They really have to follow the ordinance, as our guys will be checking on them more often to make sure people are compliant with what happens to the animal.
“We have new procedures in place. We have the new ordinance. I think it will be a lot better.”
But no ordinance can prevent a dog attack from taking place. To avoid tragedy, it takes diligence on the part of the animal’s owner.
“I’d like to warn people not to leave any animal alone with a small child,” said McGroarty. “I think what happens is people think the dog is really nice and can they leave for a minute. But that’s all it takes.”
For the humane society, the incident is a slight vindication. Over the past few months, the organization weathered considerable criticism from city councilmen, attack victims, and the general public as the new ordinance language was being considered.
“We’re doing so many things right, but people like to call attention to what they think we’re not doing,” said McGroarty. “We’re striving for professionalism every day.”
Council president Mike Kennedy explained to the crowd who attended the meeting at which the ordinance was adopted that the law is a “living document,” and that additional changes may be considered to further protect the public. McGroarty hopes that one of those changes will include the adoption of a spay/neuter ordinance.
During the months of debate, a group of concerned citizens approached the council with the idea, which would restrict animal owners from possessing a dog or cat that was sterilized, with limited exceptions. McGroarty supports that legislation.
“I’ve been looking at spay/neuter ordinances in other communities,” said McGroarty. “Fort Wayne allows you to have one unaltered animal, for instance. When you see the number of animals coming through our doors; we get 70 animals a week. A lot of them are unwanted litters. They are animals people got and didn’t know how to deal with because they’re too rambunctious or have actual needs.
“What happens when you have an overabundance of animals like that is people tend to treat them as disposable. They think they can always get another one. If we have them spayed and neutered, we wouldn’t have that influx of unwanted, unplanned animals. It would make a huge difference.”