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Council passes vicious dog ordinance

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 12:07 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 12:08 p.m. CDT

The Newton City Council met Monday evening to add an ordinance that requires owners of vicious dogs to have insurance of at least $50,000.

The council heard from Jasper County Animal Rescue League Director Teena Wolodkewitsch.

“Pit bulls are strong, larger dogs and so many problems have given the breed a bad reputation,” Wolodkewitsch said to council. “Whether it’s a pit bull or any dog without a collar becomes aggressive, they can inflict a lot of damage in a short amount of time. They have very strong jaws. The last few cases (of attacks) where animals were killed in the City of Newton by pit bulls — All of those animals have been at large previously within months, weeks of the incidences. “

Wolodkewitsch encountered all sorts of aggressive animals, but believes the fault lies with the owners.

“Owners must be willing to invest the time and energy and work with the animal and see that the animal is well behaved,” Wolodkewitsch said

Cora Vander Heiden was attacked by pit bulls in 2010 and she presented the council with graphic pictures showing the damage caused to her.

“I don’t want what happened to me on Aug. 19, 2010, to happen to anyone else. I would like to see pit bulls and pit bull mix dogs banned. From what I read, pit bulls are involved in the largest percent of incidences.”

Her attack left her traumatized. She still enjoys going on walks, but said she keeps an eye open.

Laurie VanWyngarden was recently attacked by pit bulls and saw one of her dogs killed. She addressed the board with her concerns.

“I would like to see them banned,” VanWyngarden said

Constance Doceke is a friend of VanWyngarden and gave the council her thoughts.

“They’re not animals. They’re children,” Doceke said about dogs. “Laurie was simply in her yard responsibly watching her dogs. Out of the blue, one, two, three pit bulls — they came.”

VanWyngarden was able to rescue one of her dogs but saw another her other dog, Marley, pass away. Doceke credits Marley for saving VanWyngarden’s life.

“He (Marley) was very tiny, playful, friendly little dog,” Doceke said to the council. “When he saw what was happening to his beloved mother, the only thing he could think of to do was to do what he did best. He tried to befriend these dogs that were trying to kill Laurie and his brother Andy (the other dog). It’s my opinion Marley was sent here as a guardian angel for Laurie at that precise time.”

Lisa Gibbons also addressed the council about her concerns. She owns two dogs who help kids read.

“I want to make sure my community and my pets are protected from people who are reckless and allow their animals to harm others,” Gibbons said.

In addition, she also provided the council with dog ordinance from other cities that had already addressed the issue.

The council voted and passed the ordinance.

City Attorney Darrin Hamilton warned that requiring insurance will not mean that owners will follow the law. He compared it to vehicle insurance laws. It is required, but some still drive without it, Hamilton said.

VanWyngarden was disappointed that the council did not do more, but she thought it was a step in the right direction

“It’s a start, but it is not enough,” VanWyngarden said. “They should at least require them (vicious dogs) to be muzzled. Once they bite once, it is too late. If you muzzle them, they aren’t going to hurt anybody.”

“How many people have to die before changes are put into effect?” Doceke said. “It could of been a child. It could have been a mother with a baby walking down the street.”

The following changes were made to the vicious dog ordinance:

• A vicious dog would be defined as, “a dog which has killed a domestic animal or pet or inflicted injury upon a domestic animal pet such that the domestic animal or pet later dies or is euthanized due to the attack may be declared a vicious dog.”

• The city administrator or his designee would determine if the dog is vicious and issue a notice.

• An individual or entity may appeal a case by filing a written notice of appeal to the mayor within seven days after receiving a notification. If the appeal is considered, it shall take place within 30 days of the receipt of the notice. The council may affirm or reverse the original order.

• If an owner or party violates the order, they will be charged with a simple misdemeanor, and the courts will be granted the authority to order all acts to fully effectuate the ordinance law.

• Reflects current practice of not impounding all animals, but allows for an infraction and no impoundment at the discretion of the officer.

• Updates what the penalty is for a simple misdemeanor and establishes a mandatory minimum criminal fine of $200.

• For the charge running at large, the responsible party will be included.

• Updates in some sections will include pigs.

• The quarantine process will be changed from 14 days to 10 and removes the option of the owner quarantining the animal at home.

• Adds a definition of vicious dog that permits, but does not require, a dog to be declared vicious if it inflicts injury on a domestic animal or pet such that death follows.

• Sets forth the process for vicious dog orders.

• Allows the city to order a dog declared vicious to be euthanized.

• Requires a person owning or harboring a vicious dog to be insured for at least $50,000.

• Requires vicious dogs to be micro-chipped, containing the dog’s name and “DVA” — declared vicious animal.

• Requires that a dog, previously declared vicious, upon violating the city code again, shall be euthanized.

• Regarding licensing, adds requirements of proof of insurance, proof of chipping, and adds an additional $50 vicious dog license surcharge.

• Specifically grants judges the authority to order animals to be euthanized and to order a person to not own or reside where animals are owned, harbored or found.

Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at mshepard@newtondailynews.com.

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