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La Mirada May Seek Vicious-Dog Law With Teeth

September 06, 1987|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

LA MIRADA — This city is preparing to clamp down on biting dogs.

Roused by the recent wave of publicity over pit bull attacks, the city administration has drawn up an ordinance that would make it easier to take action against dogs that attack people or other animals.

Now without a vicious-dog law of its own, La Mirada has relied on state and county regulations to deal with biting canines. But those "laws are really in the dog owners' favor--unnecessarily," said Tom Robinson, community resources manager. "They're placing a higher value on dog owners' property rights than on community public safety."

Under the proposed ordinance, a La Mirada dog would have to bite only once to set in motion a hearing process to determine if it was vicious, and if so, what should be done to prevent the animal from further venting its hostility on mankind.

The city could, for instance, order the owner to keep the animal confined, muzzled, or make the owner obtain insurance coverage for any injuries the dog might inflict. If deemed necessary, the city also could ask a Municipal Court judge to order the dog destroyed.

By contrast, under state law a dog has to bite on two separate occasions before action can be taken against him, City Atty. Craig Fox said.

The City Council likely will consider the proposal this month.

Councilman David Peters predicts the measure will be approved. "Given all the information and publicity today about pit bulls and other vicious animals, we want . . . to make sure we have the wherewithal to protect as many people as possible," he said.

Biting Draws Attention

A recent biting incident in the Foster Park neighborhood also has focused attention on the issue.

On Aug. 12, a boxer bit a 7-year-old boy and a woman, prompting 40 residents of the area to petition the City Council to banish the dog from the neighborhood. City officials said the boxer was returned home last week after undergoing quarantine, but if the dog bites again, they will take steps to have it destroyed.

City staff members began researching possible dog ordinances a couple of months ago, after another citizen petition urged the Public Safety Committee to ban pit bulls, or at least regulate dangerous dogs. City attorneys concluded that a pit bull prohibition would be on wobbly legal ground, but they foresaw no such problems with a vicious-dog ordinance.

Defining Not Workable

"Why not German shepherds, why not Dobermans, why not Chihuahuas? It was an idea that wasn't workable," said Robinson, referring to the anti-pit bull regulations.

In turning its attention to aggressive dogs, La Mirada joins several other communities. Commerce and Los Angeles recently adopted vicious-dog ordinances, and the city councils of Torrance and Gardena have given preliminary approval to their own versions. "Cities all over are adopting ordinances to deal with the problem," Fox said.

Under the La Mirada proposal, a dog that has bitten someone could be impounded or confined at home until the city conducts a hearing to determine its fate. The hearing officer would consider such things as any previous biting incidents, whether the animal was provoked, how seriously the victim had been injured, and whether the dog could be retrained.

Don Anderson, a regional official of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said his organization opposes laws that target a specific breed, such as pit bulls. But, he said, "We go along with a vicious-dog ordinance. We see no problem with that. I don't think it's being unfair to the dogs or the people."

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