First week of new dog law sees four attacks in two days

But health officials say tighter rules will help

July 20, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In the first week of a new law designed to help curb vicious dog attacks, Baltimore police and public health officials reported four dog attacks in two consecutive days. Three of those incidents involved pit bulls attacking youngsters. In the fourth, a Doberman pinscher bit a woman.

The number of dog bites in the city soars during the summer, health officials said. Still, the four incidents over Wednesday and Thursday were considered unusual.

An effort to make it easier for animal control officers to identify dangerous dogs and crack down on owners who disregard leash and pet license laws went into effect Monday. Only about 15 percent to 20 percent of the city's pet population is licensed, city officials estimate.

Under new regulations, unlicensed dogs can be seized anywhere, even in private yards.

Under the new law, passed by the City Council in April, the pet must receive a microchip implant, which holds ownership and health information, after the first offense. The owner has to pay $35 for the procedure. After a second offense, the owner must decide whether to have the animal spayed or neutered, or euthanized.

Neutering male dogs makes them less aggressive, city health commissioner, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, said yesterday.

"It's not a panacea," he said, "but we now have significantly more enforcement capability."

He said the preponderance of pit bulls in Baltimore makes some neighborhoods unsafe for children to play.

The city's chief animal control officer said the new law would reduce some of the danger from canine attacks because unlicensed aggressive dogs will now be more clearly identified.

"It will help us with the law enforcement because it gives us another tool. They can now be microchipped, and I love it," said Robert L. Anderson, director of the Bureau of Animal Control. "Before, we could never prove that it was Spike, the same dog we saw last year. They might say it's Fred. How are we supposed to know if it's Fred, Spike or Ike? This [microchip] means there's no argument."

On Wednesday, two dogs in Pigtown attacked a 15-year-old girl. A mixed-breed pit bull and a mixed terrier owned by her aunt and uncle turned on her, city officials said. She suffered facial cuts, a torn lip and a bite on her hand.

The next day, two police officers responding to report of a boy running from two pit bulls in the 4900 block of Sinclair Lane in Northeast Baltimore encountered the dogs. Police determined the dogs were vicious and impounded them, city officials said.

That night, in the first block of S. Rosedale St. in Southwest Baltimore, police officers shot and killed a pit bull after it menaced children and adult neighbors, police said. Animal control officers said they found the dog dead when they arrived.

Also on Thursday, a 37-year-old woman was bitten by a loose Doberman pinscher in the 3500 block of Benzinger Road in Southwest Baltimore, officials said. The Doberman was impounded. An animal control board will consider what to do with it next month.

About 1,000 injuries to city residents are attributed to pets each year, Anderson said. Although none of this week's injuries was life-threatening, dog bites can be lethal. In a recent high-profile case, a San Francisco woman was mauled to death and one of the animals' owners was convicted of second-degree murder and the other of involuntary manslaughter.

The best strategy if attacked, Beilenson said, is, "Do not run or scream, because screaming doesn't scare them away, and you can't outrun them. Stand like a tree, avert your glance, do not stare at a vicious animal."

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