Council nixes pit bull action
The Sonoma City Council expressed no inclination, Wednesday night, to pursue an aggressive review of the city's codes governing "vicious" dogs. That was following public testimony from 14 speakers, nine of whom expressed strong opposition to any effort to ban or require mandatory spay/neutering of pit bulls.
Among the speakers was Maureen Murray, who owns pet services businesses in Pacifica, where a pregnant woman was killed by a pet pit bull mix on Aug.11. Murray said she was mediating discussions between the mayor of Pacifica and the local humane society and that the city had decided to take "no ordinance action" in response to the tragedy. Instead, said Murray, the city had plans for "increased outreach" to the city. American pit bull terriers, added Murray, "are the breed of choice" for families with autistic children.
But Pacifica Mayor Mary Ann Nihart told the Index-Tribune that Murray had not, in fact, mediated any pit bull discussions, and that Pacifica - along with some 20 other San Mateo County cities - contracts with the Peninsula Human Society for animal control. Pacifica officials have had extended conversations about the pit bull tragedy, Nihart said, but that any change in existing ordinances relating to dangerous animals, would have to be adopted by all member cities, and appeared to be unlikely. "I have put it forward to the Council of Cities to see if there's any interest out there in change," she said, "but it would have to involve everybody."
Calling dangerous dog regulation a "murky, murky, murky issue," Nihart said Pacifica already has a dangerous dog ordinance, that a "great class" on dangerous dogs is offered by the human society, with an appeals process for dogs judged to be a public danger. "There's a doggy on doggy death row right now," Nihart said, "waiting for appeal."
Nihart also explained that the dog involved in the Pacifica fatality was a 120-pound "pit bull-mastiff, mostly mastiff."
Back at the Sonoma City Council, Bob Edwards, with Sonoma Valley Dog Owners and Guardians, testified that, "We don't have a vicious dog problem in Sonoma," and called that "a tribute to us dog owners, and a tribute to the police animal control officers."
Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett, in a written report to the council, stated that, "The police department investigates a handful of dog bite cases each year." Sacket said while the police department is responsible for investigating dog bites, the county's animal control officers are responsible for tracking and reporting such cases to state authorities. He said he had asked animal control for data regarding particular cases, but had not yet received that information. His report added that animal control officers did not recall "any recent cases where a pit bull or pit bull mix was responsible for ... aggressive behavior."
In the end, there was no ground-swell of enthusiasm for an action proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Joanne Sanders to explore a stronger law, possibly based on the dangerous dog ordinance adopted by the County of Sonoma.
Councilmember Tom Rouse, who said his family owns a 13-pound cockapoo, observed that, "Some people shouldn't have dogs, some people shouldn't have kids, some people shouldn't have both."
Councilmembers Steve Barbose (82-pound Labrador) and Ken Brown ((old English bulldog "that has some resemblance to a pit bull") agreed there was no need for any council action, but liked the suggestion from an audience member that owners should be required to take more responsibility for the actions of their animals, and that the city should make it easier for citizens to make dog bite reports.
After the discussion Sanders expressed disappointment there was not more support for exploring other options. "I take responsibility for not handling this in a way that would have produced more action," she said.