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August 14, 2007

False Dichotomies: This dog needs a bath

Slowly, quietly, a Metro Council subcommittee is doing the work that could help fix the controversial and badly flawed dangerous dog ordinance. Surely you recall that beast, which passed under duress after a nine-hour meeting at the end of 2006. I’ve read it, and I plan to ask my boss for a hazardous duty bonus. Not only is the document lengthy and involved, it is an egregious insult to the intelligence of the average person.Did you know, for example, that if your dog is deemed dangerous and you drop it off at the home of a friend who will watch it while you go on vacation for a week, you must report the dog’s change of location both when you leave and when you return? The same goes if you board it at a kennel.Did you know that the director of Metro Animal Services (a man with a questionable past, as reported only in LEO) is to inspect the living quarters of every dog he deems dangerous? Not a staffer — only the director can do the job. Did you know that when veterinarians administer rabies shots to dogs, they are now required to notify Metro Animal Services, which can then cross-reference to see if said dogs have been properly licensed?Can you see the obvious problems with that scenario? It compromises doctor-patient confidentiality, for starters, and may provide a disincentive for people to get their dogs vaccinated for fear of being ratted out. Talk about counterproductive.The flaws in the dog ordinance are varied and plentiful. Two pending lawsuits allege as much. It is not too late to turn back, though, and that is why a subcommittee of the council’s public safety committee has gathered every other week since early July. It consists of council members Judy Green, D-1, Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, Kevin Kramer, R-11, Vicki Welch, D-13 and Kelly Downard, R-16, who is the chair.When this whole debate began almost two years ago, it was for a good reason. Two people had been killed by dogs. That is key. But the process became hyperpoliticized, and by the time the council voted on what became the ordinance, the partisan hostility was evident and ugly. Democrats tweaked the ordinance until the day the council was to vote on it, and Republicans received the final document minutes before the meeting. Nine hours later, the ordinance was rammed through, largely on a party line vote.A subsequent effort to reconsider areas that Republicans found problematic really was not much of an effort at all. Eventually the Democrats challenged Republicans to propose a better bill.Which brings us to now. The subcommittee has interviewed several professionals who work with dogs or dog issues, and has asked each the same set of questions:• How would you define a dangerous  dog and a potentially dangerous dog? • Are unaltered dogs inherently more dangerous? Are unaltered dogs inherently more aggressive than altered dogs?• Have you seen or experienced methods that successfully reduce dog attacks? • Are you aware of effective programs here or elsewhere to manage pet populations?• What would you change about the Louisville law to make it more effective?Soon the subcommittee will begin discussing the information it has gathered, with the goal of getting a better ordinance to the public safety committee and then to the full council.One interesting thing about this whole process is the challenge of getting real information. Like many areas of our lives, we grow up with notions about dogs. But how do we know if they’re accurate? There is little reliable data.Take the question of altered/unaltered dogs, which is central because the ordinance treats them so very differently. Ask someone on the street and they would likely surmise that unaltered dogs are more dangerous. Yet the experts I have asked say that is not true. In fact, many say altered females can be much more difficult to deal with.I had my own ideas about dogs, and as I have participated in an ongoing training session with Canadian Sam Malatesta (www.leoweekly.com/?q=node/4390), I have learned many things that disprove what I thought I knew. More on that later.The subcommittee should be commended for trying to educate itself. It is not easy but it is important. The challenge will soon rest with the whole council to put partisanship aside in the interest of public safety. That is what started this ball rolling in the first place.The subcommittee meets again on Monday at 2 p.m. in Metro Council Chambers in City Hall at Sixth and Jefferson. The meetings are open to the public and are also broadcast on Metro TV (Insight 25). Look for ongoing coverage of the issue in LEO. Contact the writer at cstemle@leoweekly.com