45-50 dog bite, injury calls received per yearThough bites and injuries caused by animals have declined in frequency this year in Mitchell, a local official said they’ve occurred at a rate of about one per week for the past few years.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
Though bites and injuries caused by animals have declined in frequency this year in Mitchell, a local official said they’ve occurred at a rate of about one per week for the past few years.
While some bites come from wild animals — feral cats, raccoons, opossums — most are suffered from dogs.
A Nov. 6 incident is one of the most recent examples of potentially dangerous animal activity in the city.
Animal Control Officer John Parker followed up on the incident in which a 15-year-old girl suffered a laceration to her head.
She had been petting the family dog, a border collie and German shorthair cross, when it attacked her for no reason, according to the police report. Medical personnel at Avera Urgent Care closed a 3-centimeter cut on the girl with four staples.
Medical facilities are required by city code to report when they treat animal bites.
The dog is being held for 10 days at a local animal shelter, per city code, to determine whether it has rabies. The family could not produce proof of current vaccination. When that happens, and if the family is allowed to keep the dog, they are responsible for paying for boarding, fines and updated vaccinations prior to reuniting with their pet.
Parker said he’s evaluated the dog and has determined it is not dangerous. He said the family is also automatically required to register and microchip the dog as potentially dangerous, which they have done.
So far this year, police have seen a downturn in dog and animal bites or injuries, with 28 recorded.
Parker said he figures the division responded to an average of 45-50 animal bite and injury calls per year over a three-year period.
Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg and Parker are charged with determining whether a dog or other animal is classified vicious, potentially dangerous or dangerous. They take many factors into consideration, including the severity of the injury, whether it’s a repeat offense, and physical and behavioral characteristics.
A vicious dog is one deemed to have an inclination to bite or scratch a person or other animal without provocation, or a dog that menaces, terrorizes or creates fear in a person without provocation. Owners are not required to register or microchip these dogs, but the owners are given a ticket.
A potentially dangerous dog has inflicted harm to a person or other animal, either by biting or scratching, but the injury is not serious. Owners must register and microchip these dogs, among other requirements.
A dangerous dog is one that has inflicted serious injury by biting or scratching. These dogs must be euthanized or removed from the city.
Parker determines the status of a dog through interviews with victims, witnesses and others.
“Any dog can be declared dangerous because of its nature, no matter what breed,” Parker said.
Once a dog or other animal is deemed potentially dangerous, the Police Division enforces some strict rules.
The owner must register it and create proper confinement, which could be a fence that is secure enough to prevent children from getting in and a dog from digging its way out.
The division has 84 registered potentially dangerous dogs in the city since Jan. 1, 2000. When a dog is considered potentially dangerous, the owner pays $25 and fills out a registration form, which includes the type of animal, rabies vaccination information, owner’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, address and phone number.
The owner is given a tag with the dog’s registration number, which must be on the animal’s collar at all times. A microchip is also inserted under a thick portion of the dog’s coat, typically on the neck, Parker said.
Owners must also maintain current rabies vaccinations, keep the dog inside a home or outside in a properly secure enclosure and mark that enclosure with a “beware of dog” type of sign.
When outside the enclosure, the dog must be leashed and muzzled to prevent repeat incidents.
A vicious dog is aggressive, but not considered a danger, merely a nuisance, Parker said.
“If it wasn’t aggressive to the point of being a dangerous animal, we could just cite them for having a vicious dog,” he said.
For example, if a dog attacked a next door neighbor’s dog and injured it, but isn’t aggressive to people, Parker would probably declare that dog vicious, not dangerous.
“There’s a fine line between the two,” he said. “Unless it would become aggressive toward humans, bite somebody, we probably aren’t going to get into declaring it dangerous.”
This year, two dogs have been declared potentially dangerous and two have been declared vicious.
Owners of dogs Parker has declared to be dangerous have two options — take them out of town or humanely destroy them. The owners do have a right to argue that the dog isn’t dangerous, but if the decision sticks, they must decide between the two options.
Earlier this year, a Mitchell police officer encountered a dangerous dog and shot at it. Officer Terry Reyelts responded to a report of an angry dog running around a neighborhood.
It apparently had gotten out through a window, chased a 7-year-old girl and trapped her against a house. The child received minor scratches on her back and stomach.
When Reyelts arrived on scene, the pit bull ran at him from behind a house and lunged at the officer. Reyelts, in fear of his safety, fired two shots at the dog, which missed, but scared the dog into running away.
The owners eventually gained control of the pit bull, which was declared dangerous. The owners agreed to take it out of the city.
In 2007, an officer shot and killed a dog that allegedly attacked him. Sgt. Dave Beintema responded to a call of two dogs running at large — one was a pit bull, the other a pit bull/lab cross.
Beintema shot and killed the pit bull and law enforcement deemed the pit bull/lab cross dangerous.
The owners appealed the decision, claiming the officer used excessive force. They lost the appeal and decided to take the cross to family in Texas.
In 2010, the city dealt with an incident of three boxers allegedly attacking a woman walking her two dogs. One of the three boxers was declared dangerous and the family decided to take the dog outside city limits.
In 2009, a pit bull that had bit the same 8-year-old boy twice was euthanized for biting the boy’s cheek, which required reconstructive surgery. The dog bit the boy in 2008 and again in the spring of 2009. The boy was friends with the dog’s owner.
Overweg said law enforcement asks pet owners to be more responsible and take care of their pets, an echo of what a Spencer woman said in 2007 when the town banned pit bulls, among other breeds. Cathy Magnuson owned a 10-year-old pit bull mix, which she decided to euthanize after the Spencer City Council approved a ban of dogs showing an appearance or characteristics of Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, wolves, blue heelers and pit bulls.
The city of Oacoma earlier this year upheld its ban on pit bulls.
One owner’s dogs were grandfathered in when the town passed the ordinance in the 1980s, but a recent request to allow pit bulls was denied.
Parker is not in favor of breed bans. He said each dog, no matter the breed, could develop the tendency to be dangerous, aggressive or vicious. Breed bans don’t solve that problem, he added.
“We’ve dealt with all kinds,” Parker said of breeds called in for biting or being vicious. “It’s every breed you can think of — from terriers to pit bulls to shepherds to labs, you name it. A dangerous animal is a dangerous animal.”