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Raleigh considers stricter dangerous dog ordinances

After recent dog attacks in Raleigh, city leaders are considering stricter dangerous dog ordinances.

Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin said because of the severity of recent attacks, the city staff is working with the city attorney’s office to determine if changes should be made to existing ordinances or if the problem is one of enforcement.

“You have people living in their neighborhoods who are afraid to leave their homes because they’re afraid that these dogs will get out again and terrorize them,” she said.

The Raleigh City Council discussed the issue recently and is set to discuss the topic again Nov. 10. 

Baldwin said tweaks to Raleigh’s local dangerous dog ordinance two years ago were not enough to fix the problem. 

“The big question for us is why are these dogs being returned to their owner if they’ve bitten other animals, people or been aggressive, and that’s the issue we’re trying to resolve,” she said. 

Bob Marotto, director of Orange County Animal Services, said like Raleigh, Orange County operates under a North Carolina general statute for dangerous dog regulations and local county ordinances.

In Orange County, after an aggressive incident or bite has occurred, the animal control staff reviews the case and decides whether a declaration is warranted for a dog to be considered dangerous, he said.

Marotto said once a dog is declared dangerous, the owners are notified and must follow regulations like placing the dog in a secure and enclosed area if it's left unattended, and muzzling and leashing the dog if it's let out of the secured area. 

“We do make these declarations as needed on the basis of the bites and the attacks and any aggressive incidents that have occurred, and, you know, there are dozens of them,” he said. “But that’s the magnitude and that’s not unique to Orange County; I think that’s true in most counties across the country today.”

Aimee Wall, associate professor at the UNC School of Government, said while laws are enforced by the state and local ordinances, there are also opportunities for private individuals to sue dog owners, especially if the dog has already attacked a person or animal in the past.

She said individuals who possess dangerous dogs could also be affected by an increase in their homeowner’s insurance rates, or be prohibited from owning dangerous dogs, which could be breed-specific.

“It matters not whether we’re talking about a Chihuahua or a giant Mastiff, or a Chesapeake Bay retriever, or a German shepherd or a Toy Poodle; it matters not at all,” Marotto said.

Baldwin said public safety is her top priority.

“I mean, I love animals — I have two dogs of my own — but we can’t have people abusing animals in the system and terrorizing a neighborhood,” she said. 

Marotto said while public safety is one of animal service’s fundamental responsibilities, dangerous dogs represent only a fraction of dogs in the community, and there are still many responsible pet owners.

“Sometimes there’s a tension between that public safety function and recognizing the integral place of animals in our households and families,” he said. “It’s not just that dogs are dangerous; dogs are also the little furry things that sleep with our children, so there needs to be a balance.”

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