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Defining animal ordinance difficult

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By The Staff

What is a dangerous dog? Is it fair to categorize certain breeds as dangerous? Can you spot a dangerous dog just by looking at him? Can anybody?

These are some of the questions that County Council members have been grappling with since they began looking at adopting an animal-control ordinance that primarily targets man’s best friend.

In its original form, the proposed ordinance was breed-specific. It identified pit bulls, American bull dogs and Perro de Presa Canario dogs as dangerous dogs and spelled out rules that owners of these breeds of dogs would have to meet to keep them in Lancaster County. It called for keeping the dogs in pens with heavy-gauge wire with padlocked gates and a sign denoting a dangerous animal.

But owners of these breeds let council know last month how unfair they thought the proposed ordinance was. They challenged the assumption that their breeds were generally “dangerous” and deserved to be singled out. They also questioned whether doing so would be constitutional.

That outcry was enough for council members to see they needed to do more work before passing the ordinance. It was also enough to see that they needed more voices, both from residents who didn’t favor the proposed new controls and from some who favored more stringent controls, to help revise the ordinance.

We thought council was ready to take action on a revised ordinance Monday. The agenda sent out before the meeting said the ordinance would be up for a vote. But early during Monday’s meeting, the vote was postponed.

And judging from comments made by residents at the meeting, council did the right thing. The proposed ordinance needs even more study before council moves forward on it.

At issue now is a provision that would give the director of Lancaster County Animal Control the authority to classify a dog as dangerous. Is that too much power for one person to hold?

Resident John Baker, a faithful attendee at council meetings, argues it is, and we agree with him, especially since the ordinance now doesn’t have a criteria by which the animal control director would make such a conclusion. As Councilman Bryan Vaughn pointed out, it would be an arbitrary decision by the animal control officer.

Yet another issue hanging out there is a leash law for the county. Should there be one or not?

We argue there should be one.

People have a right to go to their mail boxes without being harassed by their neighbor’s dog, and people have a right to take a walk in their neighborhood without the fear of being bitten by dog that is allowed to run loose.

A leash law would make it clear to the dog owners of Lancaster County that they have a responsibility to keep their pets contained on their own property. It would clearly establish what the boundaries are.

It would say if you’re on your own or public property, you have the right not to worry about being bothered by another person’s dog. And if you are, the laws of this county are completely on your side.

The boundaries would also protect the dog, reminding people that if they enter the dog’s turf – that is, his or her pen – uninvited, they are the ones assuming the risk.

We hope County Council will establish these boundaries in the new ordinance.