A dog bite in Langley earlier this month has spurred the City Council to clamp down on dangerous canines.
In a unanimous decision, the council voted to waive the traditional second reading that normally accompanies ordinance changes and immediately adopt a set of stringent regulations for dogs that represent a public safety risk.
Mayor Larry Kwarsick said the proposed ordinance was in response to an incident that occurred a few weeks ago.
“An individual was walking on public property and was attacked,” said Kwarsick, adding that the victim was bitten with enough force that she had to go to the hospital to have her injuries treated.
The new rules do not identify or target any specific breeds, but instead apply to dogs that fit into either of two categories: dangerous and potentially dangerous.
A dangerous dog is defined as one that has inflicted severe injury — broken bones or disfiguring lacerations — to a person without provocation on public or private property. Those that have killed a domestic animal off the owner’s property, or has been previously deemed dangerous, according to the records of another government or agency, are also included.
The definition of a potentially dangerous dog is similar. It includes those that have, unprovoked, bitten humans or domestic animals on public or private property. Dogs that chase or approach people on public property in a menacing fashion also fit in the category.
Both have obvious exceptions, such as dogs that have bitten people who are willfully trespassing, like a burglar, or anyone harassing, tormenting, abusing or assaulting the animal.
Dogs of either designation are subjected to a number of hefty requirements and restrictions. Neither can be brought into city limits until the owner has obtained a certificate of registration.
Both types must be declared in writing to the city and owners must obtain a dog license. Potentially dangerous dog licenses run $250 to start and carry a $50 annual renewal fee while dangerous dog licenses are $500 with an annual renewal fee of $100.
Owners of either type must also secure a surety bond or have an insurance policy for their animals — at least $250,000 for dangerous dogs and at least $25,000 for potentially dangerous dogs.
Finally, each must be secured properly. Dangerous dogs either have to be confined indoors or in a pen that is completely enclosed, including a roof. It will be subject to inspection before getting the green light from city officials.
“When it comes down to the enclosure, I want to see it,” Police Chief Randy Heston said. “No chicken wire enclosure and call it good.”
Potentially dangerous dogs are required only to be secured indoors or in a fenced yard judged suitable to the city’s animal control officer. Both are allowed off the property but must be muzzled and restrained by a “substantial chain or leash.”
Several people spoke during the meeting, including the woman who was bitten. Valerie Easton stood before the council, recounted the experience and displayed what remains of the injuries sustained to her forearm.
“It was really terrifying,” she said.
The dog’s owners, Gary Rassner and India Rassner-Donovan, were also present. Rassner said their dog, which police have identified as an Australian shepherd mix, has never bitten anyone before and that they were “horrified” by the incident. They have since hired an animal behavioralist to help.
“We came here to let you know our feelings and how sorry we are about this,” Rassner said.
Although this was the first time the city council had reviewed the new rules, Kwarsick urged quick action, saying this is a matter of “significant importance” and is needed to safeguard the citizens.
Councilwoman Rene Neff needed little convincing. She described herself as a dog lover with a “terror” of the species that was born from experience.
“I have been bitten,” she said.
There was little discussion from Councilmen Jim Sundberg and Bruce Allen but they made it clear they also supported the measure by casting votes in favor of the motion. It carried 3-0.
Councilmen Hal Seligson and Doug Allderdice were not present.