“We really looked at overhauling a lot of the way we do things, and a lot of the ways things are controlled,” Wendling said.
Besides proposing to eliminate the pit bull ban, the city’s animal ordinances overhaul includes strengthening penalties on dogs running at large, defining nuisance, dangerous and vicious dogs, and strengthening penalties against pet owners if a dog bites another dog or a person.
“We looked at the state legislation and the city’s ordinances to identify inconsistencies, with the idea that we wanted to have our ordinances follow in line with state code,” said Fairfield city attorney Steve Wolterman.
“We wanted to have as strong as possible requirements, penalties and conditions related to owning dogs that might be a nuisance, dangerous or vicious dog.”
He added that penalties for dangerous and vicious dog classifications “are amplified” from current city law.
If a dog owner is found liable for his or her dog biting and severely harming or killing another pet or person, among other things, that dog must be muzzled at all times when off premises and confined inside a house or in a backyard by a 6-foot-tall fence while on a leash. That dog owner will also be required to buy at least $100,000 worth of liability insurance.
Penalties are proposed to be increased to as high as a first-degree misdemeanor in some cases, which means dog owners could face jail time and up to a $1,000 fine.
The city passed an ordinance in 2006 to ban pit bulls. Six years later, in 2012, the state removed all references to permitting breed-specific bans, and courts have ruled against communities banning dogs based on breeds.
Pit bulls are not a specific breed but a catch-all term for four primary breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
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Mayor Steve Miller said there would be a minimum of three readings on any proposed legislation but said “there could be more if there are revisions made” and a reading is tabled to another meeting.
The mayor said proposed legislation could be presented to City Council as early as next month, but added “there’s a lot of work to do.”
Miller, who won’t have a vote unless there’s a tie, said he wants to be sure that “irresponsible pet owners” are penalized, and wants the courts to be able to levy restitution if a person or pet is harmed, or property is damaged. “That’s one of my big concerns that we are able to give police and the courts enough power in these ordinances to go after (offenders),” the mayor said. “The court needs the ability to levy restitution.”
Wolterman said because penalties would be stronger, restitution could be levied by a judge since the misdemeanor class would be increased.
The city’s process included input from the Humane Society of the United States. Wolterman has been provided sample legislation from Kurt Freimuth, a district leader volunteer with the Humane Society.
“One of the big things here that I wanted to do, or that I strongly suggested we do is move the responsibility from the animal to the owner,” he said. “I think if you look at the changes, we effectively have done that.”
One of the new proposed codes is a “strict liability” provision, which means the fault of the dog owner would be presumed.
“What that means if a nuisance, dangerous or vicious dog were to attack someone or injure someone, that person would not have to prove the liability of the owner of it in trial or a civil claim,” Wolterman said. “It would be just about the damages element of the claim.”