Canines running wild: A dog's life

October 31, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Rocky, my best canine buddy in the world, snarled at the three dogs near the end of my driveway.

The driveway used to be my backyard. It's now paved over with concrete. The canine visitors had decided to gather for a late-night - or early-morning, take your pick - confab at around 3 a.m.

They must have been getting a jump on the pack. Usually, dogs don't hop their fences and start running around my neighborhood until 7 or 8 in the morning. Rocky, who's not my dog but lives next door, is a pretty cool critter as dogs go. He was either being very territorial and telling the dogs to stay away or he was telling them, "I'm in compliance with the Baltimore City Health Code regulation requiring that dogs be kept on leashes. Why aren't you?"

It's a matter of being owned by responsible pet owners or irresponsible pet owners. Rocky's owned by responsible pet owners. Those prowling dogs have owners who need to make themselves acquainted with Subtitle 3 of Title 10 of the Health Code of Baltimore City, especially the part that reads "all dogs must be kept confined in a building or secure enclosure or secured by a leash."

City Councilwoman Agnes Welch's heart was in the right place when she introduced a bill requiring that dangerous animals be kept in more secure enclosures after a pit bull attacked a 7-year-old girl. The bill hasn't been voted into law. But don't we already have a similar one?

We sure do. (We have a "Vicious Dog Hearing Board" too, and Olivia Farrow, Baltimore's assistant commissioner for environmental health, said it meets on Wednesdays at 9 a.m.) The law is in Subtitle 6 of Title 10. It goes something like this:

"Every dangerous animal must be confined in a building or secure enclosure and whenever off the premises of its owner or keeper securely caged or muzzled and leashed." And for the nitpickers, the term "dangerous animal" is defined. It's one that either "has bitten or attacked a human being or another animal without provocation or presents a physical threat to human beings or to other animals due to a disposition or propensity to cause injury or to behave in a way that could reasonably be expected to cause injury, regardless of whether its behavior is hostile."

Pit bulls clearly fall into the latter category, and the owners of the pit bull that attacked the 7-year-old girl violated the law. The owners of those dogs who hold canine party time in my neighborhood every morning break a law already on the books. We don't need new laws.

We need stricter enforcement of the ones we have, and stiffer fines.

We need to send irresponsible pet owners a message: Clean up your act or pay the consequences. And when I say "pay," I mean more than the $1,000 maximum fine that Title 10 requires. The law reads that violators can pay "up to" a $1,000 fine, which means they may get off with forking over as little as 50 bucks if health officials are in a wrist-slapping mood.

I figure a minimum fine of $2,500 should get the attention of any irresponsible pet owner. That amount will drive home the point that they're lawbreakers, not victims.

I ran across one of these professional victims soon after my backyard was paved over and became my back driveway. She had a tiny dachshund - a cute little feller - who, I think, had the annoying habit of defecating in my driveway. I never caught the dog in the act, but he was my prime suspect.

Now his owner probably knew what he was doing, because one day she came up to me and asked, in an accusing tone of voice: "Did you call animal control on my dog?"

I hadn't, but only because I hadn't gotten around to it. But somebody did, more than likely a somebody who did catch the dog in the act. The woman clearly didn't hold herself responsible for anything. Her dog was clearly making poopers in the yards of her neighbors. The Health Code said she was responsible for cleaning that up, and she never did.

This woman, who kept a filthy yard as well as an unleashed dog, has since moved. The new occupant, who owns the building, told me, "I got those people out of there" just before he moved in. "Bless you, my son," I told him and welcomed him to the neighborhood.

The woman blamed kids who lived nearby for coming by and taking her dog off its leash, clearly oblivious to the law that said dogs must be kept on leashes or confined in a building. For whatever reason she didn't want her dog in her house.

But 2,500 reasons might have given her the attitude adjustment she so desperately needed.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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