Newton residents have urged public officials to review the ordinances regarding vicious dogs, with one citizen saying the code benefits animals over the victims.
Max Tipton, 86, of Newton, told the city council on Aug. 1 about his wife, Kathy, who was bitten by a neighbor’s dog just a few days prior. Although he was not home at the time of the incident, he learned the 78-year-old Kathy was outside in the front yard. The dog was loose, and Max insisted it was not the first time.
“I’ve just been waiting for someone to get hurt because of that dog,” Max said. “Well, my wife was watering the flowers. The dog was loose. The little girl had her out on the leash. The dog attacked my wife. It could have been a lot worse. We thank God that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Council members were told the dog had knocked down Kathy and had her arm in its mouth, which left tooth marks and lacerations. Pictures of Kathy’s injuries were shared with Newton News during a follow-up interview on Aug. 15. Although most of the bruising has disappeared, a large gash is still healing.
“This was all black and blue,” Kathy said, pointing to her forearm. “Something put me to the ground. And it’s been three weeks of recuperating the stress in my back. The chiropractor said to me, ‘You’re a bruised up mess.’ My doctor is sending me to physical therapy.”
Typically, doctors do not stitch animal bites to the hand or foot because there is a high risk of infection. Stitching would only increase the likelihood of infection. However, depending on the severity of the bite, some doctors will recommend stitches. Kathy did not have to get stitches; doctors pulled skin over the wound.
“We’re very fortunate she didn’t have a heart attack or worse,” Max said. “I plead guilty at being one of these (people) that you’re not concerned about an issue until it happens to you … So I’m guilty tonight on that issue. But the city code on the vicious dog, it appears to me in reading that that it’s in favor of the dog.”
If he were to attack someone unprovoked, Max said he would expect to be taken away in handcuffs. But the dog, he said, gets to go home.
“I think the city, and the reason I’m here, needs to take another look at that city code,” Max said. “And I understand the lack of funds and know (JCARL) is closed. I understand all that stuff. And I understand the police can only operate within the code … But I urge the city to take another look at that.”
OTHER RESIDENTS ARE TAKING NOTICE
Another resident complained of dogs at-large and dog bites during the July 18 city council meeting. Donna Stumme, of Newton, said in the past two weeks her neighborhood experienced three instances of two loose dogs who ventured onto others’ property. It is suggested some of these dogs are acting aggressive.
Council member Mark Hallam spoke up for Stumme saying the number of intakes of stray or assumedly abandoned animals — mostly dogs — to the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines is increasing “significantly” and well on track to surpass last year’s numbers.
“This is just the ones reported,” Stumme said. “I know I found two just in my community that had the dog walking on a leash killed a pet and then had bitten another one, and that has not been reported. Right now we’re on target with 24 bites to surpass last year by quite a bit.”
According to data from the police department, there have indeed been 24 dog bite calls in 2022 so far. The year before had 34 calls about dog bites. From 2012 to 2022, there have been a total of 306 dog bite calls. The most occurred in 2019 with 38 calls. The lowest amount of dog bite calls occurred in 2014 with 16 calls.
Stumme has personally experienced vicious dogs, too. She recalled hearing “vicious barking” in her driveway and promptly called 911. The dog came back about four times, and she said the aggression was significant. Stumme also called out the city’s code, suggesting there are parts that do not support victims.
“The problem is everywhere,” she said, urging that more education and perhaps council action is needed.
Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess said residents with a problematic or vicious dog must comply with a number of safeguards if they want to keep the dog in town. If the owner does not wish to comply with the city ordinance, they can relinquish ownership, have the dog euthanized or take it outside city limits.
The city has very few repeat dog bite offenders, Burdess told Newton News, which indicates to him that the problematic and vicious dog ordinance seems to be working. However, the bigger issue is prevention and having dog owners take a larger role in being responsible for their dog’s behavior.
Residents who have dogs at large are cited for those violations, too. Burdess said the city’s ordinance is stronger than others in the state and exceeds state code requirements. Enforcing loose dogs can be challenging for police, but Burdess said a bigger issue is lack of reporting on dog bites and aggression.
HOW OFFICERS RESPOND TO DOG BITES
Newton Police Department has seen an influx of dog bite reports this year. The majority of the bites reported to the police involved pets that have bitten their owner or family member, and the injuries are relatively minor. But there are some instances of people getting injured from breaking up fights with dogs.
“That’s not to say we don’t have incidents where a person is bitten by a dog for no apparent reason, but it’s less common. Most injuries reported in recent years have been minor, but a few have required medical attention,” Burdess said, noting the dog breeds vary but seem to be pit bull mixes and husky breeds.
After a severe dog attack in 2010, the City of Newton created an animal control committee that included Newton residents, animal experts, law enforcement and other professionals to review the state and city ordinances. The committee also consulted legal experts to draft the ordinance in use today, Burdess said.
In place since 2012, City Code Chapter 90 has only had a few amendments made to it over the years to either strengthen or clarify language.
“The city code is above and beyond what the state code requires for dog bite and animal control incidents. The state code requires some form of animal control measures within a municipality and allows for local control of those measures,” Burdess said, noting city code gives a broader range of control mechanisms.
When a dog bite is reported, an officer responds to the incident and investigates. These reports tend to come from the emergency room, a local doctors office, the victim of the bite or the biting dog’s owner. Burdess said these cases are investigated much like an assault would be.
After getting written statements from all parties, officers can make a determination on quarantine for the offending dog. If dogs have current rabies vaccinations on file, then they are typically ordered to conduct a 10-day in-home quarantine. If not, dogs carry out their quarantine in a veterinary office.
It is then up to the police chief to determine if a problematic or vicious designation is applicable for the dog.
If the dog is deemed problematic or vicious, the owner could have to spay or neuter the animal, provide proof of insurance, build an enclosure, use a muzzle, vaccinate the pet, etc.
DOG BITES A NATIONWIDE PROBLEM
Dog at-large intakes by the city have been above the normal average at this stage of the year, Burdess said. However, the trend is not unique to Newton. Several people bought dogs during the pandemic and have decided they can no longer take care of or want the dog.
With more dogs in the community, it increases the chances of biting incidents. When a loose or at-large dog is captured by the police department, they are taken to Parkview Animal Hospital. Upon reclaim, the owners of these dogs are subsequently cited for allowing a dog to run at-large, Burdess said.
According to data submitted to Newton News by the police department, there have been 92 intakes to Parkview so far this year. The city has also transferred 29 dogs to the ARL, which already surpasses the 27 dogs transferred to the ARL in 2021. Last year there were 172 intakes to the ARL.
Articles from Forbes, The Guardian and other media outlets published within the past 18 months suggest Burdess’ claims of a national trend of rising dog bites to be true. Several of the articles blame the pandemic for also limiting socialization opportunities for dogs.
The city does not have a pet license program that ensures pets are properly vaccinated. When dogs are found to not be licensed with the city, the police department issues the owner a citation and requires licensing.
“Residents are encouraged to call the police department if they see a dog running at-large or witness aggressive behaviors from dogs that are on a property,” Burdess said. “Although we may not always be able to legally do anything at the time, having notice of a potential issue provides us an opportunity to discuss the concerns with the dog owners.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 560 or email@example.com