E. Raleigh residents still want tougher action on dog attacks

City attorneys to report to council members in February

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 2, 2013 

— It’s been months since a huge St. Bernard climbed under Teresa Washburn’s fence and attacked her two Chihuahuas in their own backyard. But the pets still have lingering injuries, and Washburn says the attacking dog’s owner was never held accountable.

“I feel like people who don’t take responsibility, they need to at least give up their dog,” she said.

Washburn’s next-door neighbor still has the St. Bernard. Raleigh’s animal control officers encouraged Washburn to take the woman to small claims court to recover the $3,000 she spent on vet bills. But the dog’s owner never responded to the legal action, and Washburn said she was told the woman is indigent and can’t pay the damages.

Washburn is among a number of East Raleigh residents pushing city officials for tougher animal control ordinances. The neighborhood off North Raleigh Boulevard has seen a rise in dogs attacking people and pets during the past year. They say the city’s current rules – less punitive than the county’s ordinances in some respects – leave them vulnerable to the area’s vicious dogs.

Raleigh City Council members voiced interest in revising the rules when the complaints were on the agenda last June. But since then, there’s been little further discussion on the issue.

After the June meeting, city staff asked police department attorney Ashby Ray to review the current ordinance with animal control staff to get their recommendations on what’s needed. Asked about the report recently, assistant city manager Dan Howe said Ray is still working on it and plans to present it to the council in February.

Washburn said she thinks the process is taking too long. “They’ve sort of put it on the back burner,” she said. “This issue kind of fell to the wayside.”

Law differs from county’s

As things stand now, Wake County’s law is both more specific and more punitive than city ordinance.

For example, owners of dangerous dogs that bite humans in the county’s jurisdiction are fined $500 for the first offense, with the dog euthanized after a 10-day waiting period for possible appeal. For dangerous dogs that kill or wound other domestic animals under the county’s jurisdiction, the consequences are the same, but fines are $250 for the first offense and $500 thereafter.

In the city, when a dog bites another domestic animal or a person, the fine is up to $500 for a criminal violation, with civil penalties from $50 to $250. The city also prohibits public nuisance animals, which include dogs repeatedly found off-leash or “vicious” animals that repeatedly attack humans or other animals.

However, vicious dogs are allowed to be kept for personal protection as long as they are securely confined. What constitutes secure confinement is not defined in city ordinance.

Washburn said animal control officers asked the owner of the attacking St. Bernard to use a muzzle, but the dog remained unmuzzled and no further action was taken. Meanwhile, one of Washburn’s Chihuahuas still has trouble getting around. “She limps and if she’s running, she’ll run on three legs,” she said.

Until the city’s rules change, Washburn said she and her neighbors don’t feel safe on their neighborhood streets.

“We don’t go walking dogs as much as we used to,” she said. “We’ve all just sort of stayed inside.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802

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