A pit bull escaped its home and killed a neighbor’s chihuahua on Christmas Day in Steelville. The chihuahua’s owner, Tim Cassidy, approached Steelville aldermen at their meeting on January 7 to talk about the city’s restrictions on vicious dogs in the hopes of preventing another such tragedy, or one where a person was injured or even killed.
The city has instituted ordinances that include details on how such dogs must be contained. Police Chief Lydle Davis feels the rules are sufficient, but he plans to continue vigilance on ensuring the guidelines are enforced.
Cassidy reported that his dog was on the sidewalk in front of his home when the pit bull “came over, pulled my dog into the street and it was killed.” He said the neighbor’s dog had broken out through the home’s front door and came across the street to attack his pet. The pit bull’s owners received a citation and the dog was euthanized.
Mayor Terry Palmer noted that the pit bull had been involved in previous instances and Cassidy called it “blacklisted.” Alderman Mike Pounds, who lives close to both homes involved, added, “Obviously, this hits real close to home,” and questioned the policies involved in protecting people and pets from such an animal.
Three sections of city ordinances refer to a situation such as this one. Section 73.070 is titled “Vicious Animals” and states, in part, “It shall be unlawful for any person to own, keep, harbor, or allow to be in or upon his or her premises any animal of a dangerous, vicious, or ferocious disposition. A dangerous, vicious, or ferocious animal shall be an animal that has attacked, or shown propensities to attack, persons, or other animals.” Penalties start with a fine of up to $500 and court costs or 90 days in jail. The chief of police has the discretion to determine that the animal should be humanely killed.
Section 73.140 is titled, “Dangerous Animals” and includes a detailed definition of such an animal, the procedure involved in declaring an animal to be dangerous, and requirements for a person to keep such an animal within the city limits. These animals must be registered with the city and pay a license fee of $50 annually. City personnel must photograph the animal for identification purposes (maintained as part of its registration file). The animal must wear a bright orange collar and registration tags at all times. It must be securely confined—either indoors or in a securely enclosed and locked pen. Such pen must be completely enclosed, with a height of six feet and a top. If walls are not secured to the bottom, then the walls of the pen are to be embedded in the ground at least 24 inches deep. A sign must be posted informing others that a dangerous animal is present and the owner must provide proof of liability insurance in the amount of $100,000.
The above ordinances are under Subchapter A–Dogs, in Chapter 73—Animals. A separate subchapter is devoted entirely to pit bulls. Section 73.480 of that subchapter states it is unlawful to own a pit bull unless licensed and registered with the city and unless compliant with particular regulations. There is a detailed definition of which dogs are considered pit bulls and requirements for keeping one within the city limits. Those requirements are similar to those of a “dangerous animal,” but add the condition that a pit bull outside its pen must be securely leashed and muzzled. Pen requirements listed are similar to those found in Section 73.140, except that a key or combination lock is required and sides of the pen must be embedded in the ground at least 12 inches. Pit bulls are not allowed to be in a home when windows are open or screens are the only item preventing their escape. The signage required must state “Beware Pit Bull Here” and must be posted on the property and on the pen. Liability insurance required for a pit bull is $50,000.
Cassidy reported he was “fighting with the insurance company” because they refused to pay damages for his loss, having stated that they are not liable, and that the insurance held by the owner was to cover loss of the dog, not losses caused by the dog. He asked, “Who comes to verify that these people have insurance?”
Pounds noted that, in reading the ordinances, it appeared the police chief should be the one who verifies that the regulations for owning such an animal are being followed. “And I don’t know if that’s what we do,” he said. “We can’t change what happened here, but there are several others who have pit bulls.”
However, City Clerk Sheila Anderson noted that there are no other pit bulls currently registered with the city and Police Chief Lydle Davis said that many people claim they have seen pit bulls, but often they are other breeds.
“So, in your opinion, Lydle, does our ordinance need to be improved?” Pounds asked the chief. Davis responded that he felt the city’s lawyer had done the best he could do with the ordinances.
Pounds also pointed out that, although this particular animal had an enclosed area outside, there were several other exits the dog had used to get out of the residence into unfenced areas. “Do we need to look at maybe putting together a checklist of what has to be in place?” he asked. “I don’t want to see another (situation like this).”
Cassidy concurred that a checklist would be a good idea. “So if there’s an incident, you could see that things have been taken care of,” he said. He also stated that the fence in place for this animal was not compliant with the standards listed in the ordinances and that his pet had been the third animal killed by this dog.
Cassidy reiterated that he’d come to the council so that something like this, or even worse, wouldn’t happen again. “My sister ran out there,” he said. “She could have been hurt. I just don’t want anyone else getting hurt like this.”
Pounds agreed, “I just want to make sure we have everything in place so it doesn’t happen, especially to a child. I don’t want to hear a report that somewhere else in town, this happened. We are responsible to protect the citizens.”
Davis plans to create a checklist from the city ordinances. And he told the council, “I watch for pit bulls. I patrol all the time, and watch for them. I see who has them and get them out of the city limits for safety.”