Leash law in county's future?

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By Jenny Hartley

County Council members and residents of Lancaster - some dog lovers and others who have been dog bite victims - are working together to rework an ordinance concerning dangerous dogs.

Council had proposed designating all pit bulls, American bulldogs and perro de presa Canarios, or Carnary dogs, as dangerous, regardless of whether they had attacked someone or not.

Dogs of these breeds would have had to wear a collar identifying them as dangerous under a proposed ordinance. They would have to be kept in special, strong pens, tattoed for identification and registered with Lancaster County Animal Control, among other requirements.

The proposed ordinance raised the hackles of many pit bull owners in the county, who filled council chambers at council's March 3 meeting in protest. Others came to the meeting to talk about how they or their loved ones had been terrorized by pit bulls.

Council decided that night to appoint a citizens committee to work with council's committee - Wesley Grier, Jack Estridge and Wayne Kersey - to hash out the law and develop a compromise.

The group met Monday night for the first time.

Kersey said it was a positive experience.

"There was harmony and unity in that committee meeting last night," he said. "I thought it went real well."

Pit bull owners, people who have been attacked by pit bulls or American bulldogs, a dog trainer and a representative from the Lancaster County Humane Society are serving on the committee.

Kersey said the group needs to research state laws more and get better educated on the animal laws already on the books. He said a compromise may be adopting a countywide leash law, which would help contain stray animals that could attack.

"I feel sure that's one of the things that will come out of this," Kersey said. "There are just too many animals roaming free in Lancaster County that nobody is responsible for."

Instead of identifying all dogs of a certain breed as dangerous, Kersey said the committee is working to establish a criteria that would identify individual dangerous dogs. He expects the committee to hold two more meetings before the ordinance is revamped and goes before full council for approval.

Mary Reimers, a member of the Lancaster County Humane Society, said a lot was accomplished in just one meeting.

She said the group formulated a rough draft of another ordinance to address dangerous dogs but isn't breed specific.

"Some pit bulls and bull dogs are dangerous, but some are very gentle pets," Reimers said.

If a leash law is approved, it would likely cover cats and dogs, Reimers said. Guard dogs, service dogs and hunting dogs in the field would be exempt. Length and weight of chains would be determined by the size of the dog.

While Reimers doesn't agree with restraining dogs on chains, the leash law would likely require yearly licensing for pets.

"That was what I really wanted," she said.

She also hopes the law will require pet owners to show proof that their animals have received yearly rabies shots.

Tammy Lynn, whose 4-year-old daughter, Candace, was attacked by an American bulldog last year, said the majority of the committee owns dogs. She said she's glad, as someone who has been traumatized by a dog, to have a voice.

"I agree with a leash law," Lynn said. "But I also think some other things need to be in place."

Other committee members are Bill Holden, Brad Kirkley, Trey Cook, Reid Rushing, Trent Parker, Derek Smith, Cayce Smith, Robert Burnham, Elaine Boone and Robert Porter.

Kersey said he knew forming a dangerous animal law wouldn't be easy, and he wasn't surprised at the outcry at last week's council meeting.

"We're not taking rights away from the people of Lancaster County," Kersey said. "We're protecting the children of Lancaster County. I know it's going to be worth it, if it keeps one child from getting mauled."

Contact Jenny Hartley at 283-1151 or jhartley@thelancasternews.com