Cracking down on dangerous dogs Baltimore County: Animal control requires balance between public, private interests.

December 20, 1997

IT'S ALWAYS interesting to listen to owners of aggressive dogs minimize the need for regulation. To prove the dogs are harmless, they'll invite visitors to see them at home, where the pets are affectionate and playful. Typically, they'll make some sarcastic comment about the "dangerous beasts," like the one a pit bull owner offered a Sun reporter investigating a Baltimore County proposal for tighter control over threatening dogs. In the next breath, they'll say their pets provide "all around protection." Obviously, if they were harmless, they wouldn't serve that purpose.

No one is saying there aren't nice pit bulls and Rottweilers, or that training isn't crucial. But it's a fact that these dogs have been engineered through the years to be aggressive. Their popularity stems from that very characteristic; a growing number of people want animals to intimidate and/or attack intruders.

The problem is that aggressive dogs don't discriminate. They don't know a mailman or a child from a burglar. And while pit bulls and Rottweilers aren't the only dogs that bite, they bear disproportionate responsibility for serious dog-related injuries. Three loose pit bulls terrorized a Queens, N.Y., neighborhood last week before police shot two of them.

With these dogs proliferating along with bites, complaints and dogfighting, some places have outlawed them, a response that strikes us as unnecessarily antagonistic. We need regulation of all dangerous animals. This, however, is a tricky matter. Neighbors want animals they believe dangerous seized before someone gets hurt, but this is an intrusive thing to ask of government. The taking of someone's property can never be done frivolously; that the property in this case is often viewed as a family member complicates the matter.

That said, the Baltimore County bill is a fair attempt to offer neighborhoods preventive protection against a problem caused by a loophole in state law. That law gives local officials power to declare dangerous animals that have already attacked or that have been seen causing trouble; the local measure would let officials act when they have good reason to believe an animal poses a danger, even if it hasn't attacked and they haven't personally witnessed violations of confinement laws.

In the interest of public safety, animal control should be able to make such judgments -- though prudence must be used.

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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