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PA: Enforcement officials on the hunt for more dangerous dogs in Erie region
Published: November 08. 2010 1:15AM
Enforcement officials on the hunt for more dangerous dogs in Erie region
By TIM HAHN
Smokey can't stand the sight of other dogs, Barb Turner said.
Smokey is a dog that belongs to Barb and Ben Turner, of Erie. The dog is on the state's dangerous dog list. Smokey was photographed on Oct. 28.
The 8-year-old pit bull terrier proved it several years ago, when she bit off a piece of a passing dog's ear.
That lack of restraint landed Smokey in some scary company.
Smokey is one of 246 dogs on Pennsylvania's "dangerous dogs" list.
Each earned its spot by attacking humans or other domestic animals.
The designation places restrictions on how the dogs are housed and how freely they may roam when out of confinement.
It requires the dog owners, like Turner, to pay registration fees, and to carry liability insurance.
The rules now apply to four dogs in Erie County and one in Crawford County.
Two of the Erie County dogs live in the city. The other two reside in Girard.
The list of local dogs could grow.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which handles dog law enforcement in the state and compiles the dangerous dogs list, is in the process of updating the list to catch the owners of designated dogs who have not registered their animals, said Nicole Bucher, the agency's acting press secretary.
Erie's animal enforcement officer, Rob Culbertson, said he's looking to add at least two more dogs to the list, once one outstanding dog bite case goes to court later this year and the owner of a dog in another case is found and charged.
The state dog wardens who cover Erie and Crawford counties investigate "probably an above-average amount of dog-bite incidents," said Brad Shields, who supervises 14 dog wardens in 16 northwestern Pennsylvania counties for the Department of Agriculture.
Not every bite lands an animal on the dangerous dogs list.
"The injuries have to be severe in nature," Shields said. "With an attack on humans, we can file (for dangerous dog designation) if it happened on public or private property. If it attacks another animal, the dog has to be running at large."
The attack has to be significant enough to warrant the filing of charges against the dog owner. A magisterial district judge must then declare the dog dangerous, Bucher said.
Once that determination is made, the "control" of the dog falls on the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, Shields said.
The dog owner must pay a registration fee and carry a $50,000 liability insurance policy. The animal must be microchipped and spayed or neutered.
The dog must be confined in an appropriate enclosure, and it must be muzzled and leashed when outside of the enclosure. The home must also be posted with signs warning the public that a dangerous dog lives there, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The requirements became more stringent in October 2009, after an update to the state dog laws.
The owners of dogs that were placed on the list before that time, like Turner, were required to pay a one-time registration fee of $200. The law now requires owners of dogs added to the list since October 2009 to pay a $500 registration fee annually.
Only one local dog owner falls under the new law. A Girard woman's 7-year-old German shepherd was added to the dangerous dogs list in the summer after Girard police said the dog bit the woman's neighbor in the arm in early July.
Failing to follow the rules can prove costly.
Barb and Ben Turner said Smokey was taken from their home in Erie and placed in a shelter for several months because Smokey's pen had a dirt floor, instead of a concrete floor as required by law.
Barb Turner's son, who she said actually owns Smokey but can't keep the dog at his rental home, paid the $1,500 shelter bill after Ben Turner installed the required floor in Smokey's pen.
"She loves people. She just loves attention. And my son is super-attached to her. I didn't want to lose her," Barb Turner said.
Dog wardens check in on dangerous dogs and their owners at least once a year, to make sure that they are complying with the regulations, Shields said. Dogs can be confiscated, and their owners can be charged criminally, for violations that include not having the animal registered, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
If a designated dangerous dog attacks a person or an animal, the incident must be reported to a state dog warden for investigation.
Rob Culbertson, Erie's animal enforcement officer, said he doesn't take any chances with dangerous dogs if they continue to be a problem.
"Once they are declared dangerous and we get any kind of violation, I will confiscate it and put the dog down," Culbertson said. "It's for the safety of the public. I'm not going to bring a dog back to the kennel knowing how dangerous it is. If it is that aggressive, I'm not going to have any employee at the shelter risk their life or limbs."
Culbertson considers the dogs he wants to add to the state's dangerous dogs list as equally dangerous as the dogs already on that list.
One is a dog that attacked a 3-year-old boy and bit the boy in the face.
The owner of the dog was found guilty of having a dangerous animal, but the man gave the dog to his ex-wife and Culbertson said he hasn't been able to find them.
The other unresolved incident involved five dogs that confronted a young couple who were walking a beagle. The dogs -- four pit bulls and a shepherd/collie mix -- bit the woman in the hand and "tore up" the beagle, Culbertson said.
"That dog survived. She's a miracle case to me," he said.
The owner of the five dogs has been identified and is scheduled to appear in court within the next two months.
Culbertson said he does not yet know how many of the dogs will be targeted for inclusion on the dangerous dogs list.
GoErie.com: Local News - Enforcement officials on the hunt for more dangerous dogs in Erie region
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