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Dogcatchers Start Keeping Closer Eye on Pit Bulls

July 12, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — A Southeast Los Angeles animal control agency has improved its system for tracking problem pit bull terriers by paying closer attention to telephone complaints and taking action when separate reports about the same dog are received.

People who contact the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority complaining about a pit bull or seeking information because one lives in their neighborhood will be asked to disclose the owner's address, said Executive Director Dan Morrison. The address can then be used to determine whether the animal is licensed and if there have been previous complaints, he said.

Morrison said that the Animal Control Authority has received some hysterical calls from people panicked by news reports of recent pit bull attacks. And, as of July 16, 29 pit bull owners in the Southeast had turned their dogs in to be destroyed, he said. In addition, Morrison estimated that an equal number of stray pit bulls had been reported and picked up by the agency during that time.

"That's an exceptional number," Morrison said.

With pit bull owners, "the biggest thing is the unknown," he said. "They don't want the responsibility of having a dog that may have the propensity to cause some damage. . . . The main concern is the liability."

Concern About Neighbors' Dogs

Other calls come from residents concerned about pit bulls in their neighborhood.

"They say, 'It jumps up on the fence and I'm afraid it's going to jump over the fence and attack my kids,' or 'What can we do to ensure it's safe to go out?' even though they may have lived next to the dog for five years," Morrison said.

Complaints about pit bulls running loose are given priority, Morrison said, and owners of impounded dogs must show proof of ownership and licensing before the animal will be released. Impounded, vicious pit bulls are quarantined in an area not accessible to the public and all adult pit bulls are given private runs, he said. Pit bulls unclaimed after five days are destroyed because the Animal Control Authority doesn't want to be liable for anything the dog may do after it is adopted, Morrison said. The pit bull breed is the only one the authority does not offer for adoption, although the agency's policy is not to allow the adoption of any pet showing vicious tendencies.

Notification by Letter

If two separate complaints are received about a single animal, the owner will be notified by letter that another complaint will require applying for a vicious animal permit. After an investigation of the owner, animal and its residence, the animal control agency can grant a permit and can add provisions such as requiring the owner to install a more secure backyard lock or to build a run for the dog, Morrison said.

While the Animal Control Authority has started recording all complaints about pit bulls, it will not take any action against the owner before investigating the circumstances, Morrison said.

"It sounds as if we have a drawer full of these permits . . . but it's pretty rare to have vicious animal permits pending," he said.

There have only been five such permits issued in the authority's area, which includes Downey, Norwalk, Lynwood, Bell Gardens, Montebello, Santa Fe Springs, Paramount and Vernon. He said the agency has jurisdiction over an area with an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 pets.

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