Problem Dogs Or Problem Owners?

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A recent rash of aggressive dog attacks has brought to light questions about how the town deals with vicious dogs and what responsibility owners have.

Kristine Clenney's 8-year-old daughter, Kayla, was attacked by a neighbor's Australian Shepherd/heeler mix in late July.

"They always kept the dog locked-up in a bedroom or on the deck because they knew it was aggressive," Clenney said.

One Saturday evening, the owner had just returned from walking the dog and it was on a leash.

"Kayla went up to pet him and he grabbed on to the left side of her face," Clenney described.

Clenney harbors no ill feelings toward the neighbors, who were devastated by what happened. Her frustration is what happened after her daughter was bitten.

"We brought Kayla to the emergency room," Clenney said. "I called the police from the lobby to make a report."

An officer came to the hospital, took the report, and went to the dog owner's apartment.

Clenney was concerned because the dog did not have vaccination records and her daughter could have been exposed to rabies.

"I continually called to get them to take the dog," Clenney said. "I wanted to call animal control, but I was told they only have a pager number and only the police can call them."

Clenney said the dog was finally taken on Sunday, but she has not received a call from anyone regarding the dog's health.

Town Animal Control officer, Don Tanner, recalls the incident.

"That dog was picked up the next day and quarantined at the humane society," Tanner said. "The owners did not want the dog back so it was quarantined and then euthanized."

As to why he did not call Clenney with an update on the dog, nor information on its health, Tanner said, "I thought I called her. I must have missed her."

According to Tanner, rabies in house pets is not a major concern.

"Last year, there was only one dog in the state of Arizona that tested positive for rabies," Tanner said. "The chances are astronomical."

Tanner said if a dog shows any signs of rabies, they are immediately euthanized and sent to a state lab for testing.

Jogger attacked by Rotweiler

Lynn Grace was going for her usual Saturday morning jog around Green Valley Park when she was attacked by a Rotweiler.

"I was on Main Street, east of the Presbyterian Church, and saw two dogs coming toward me," Grace said. "One of them didn't seem like it was going to be a problem, but the other dog made an absolute beeline for me."

Grace remained calm as the dog, she describes as 100 pounds and stocky, lunged at her.

"I had a brace on my left leg and I tried to keep that leg at him," Grace said.

Grace said the dog lunged at her four times, biting her brace. By the time the dog lost interest, she had torn clothes, a few scratches and the only bites were to her leg brace.

"I had my cell phone on me and I called 911," Grace said. "I told them the dog had attacked me but I didn't need medical attention and that the dog was still in the area."

Dispatch advised Grace to wait on Main Street for an officer to arrive. Twenty minutes later, Grace called 911 again to see if anyone was coming. She was told an officer was on the way. After an hour, she went home and, again, dialed the police station.

"I told them I wanted to make a report because that dog is dangerous -- it meant business."

An officer did come to Grace's house to make a report, but Grace feels if the response had been more timely, they would have gotten the dog, and potentially spared someone from being attacked.

According to Police Chief Gordon Gartner and Tanner, Payson has had an ongoing problem with aggressive dogs and dogs at large.

Gartner said the delayed response by police was a miscommunication between parties. "Apparently there was a communication issue with dispatch and the sergeant working that day," Gartner said. "The sergeant thought it was a routine dog-at-large call, which is a low-priority call."

Gartner said that a vicious dog at large that is attacking someone is a priority one call.

According to Tanner, the department receives many dog-at-large calls that are initially reported as vicious dogs.

"We've run across many times where it's called in that it is a vicious dog and I get there and it's the sweetest thing in the world," Tanner said.

Tanner also received a call he believes was about the same dog.

"Someone over at the fire department was out jogging on West Main and a dog came out and chased him," Tanner said.

"We've had quite a few aggressive dogs lately," Assistant Humane Society Manager Kim Garza said. "We've gotten a lot of heelers lately, and most people stereotype pit bulls as the ones that bite and most of the time they are very sweet."

The consequences

In a case where there is an aggressive dog at large that attacks people or animals, the owner can face severe consequences.

"If it's an aggressive dog, and it's known to be aggressive, it can fall under a felony state statute," Tanner said.

Arizona State Statute 13-1208 states that a person who owns a dog which the owner knows has a propensity to attack, injure, or otherwise endanger the safety of human beings without provocation, and attacks a human being while at large, is guilty of a class 6 felony.

Whether the owner is charged with a felony depends on the history of the dog.

"It depends on how many calls we've received in the past about the dog," Tanner said. "If the dog is showing viciousness and it goes after other people or animals, they get cited immediately." When Tanner deems a dog as vicious, he provides owners with the town ordinance that defines what must be done. The dog is required to be properly restrained and contained at all times. The owner has a duty to confine the animal in such a way that persons other than the owner do not have access to the animal.

Tanner recalls a recent case of a dog on McLane Road.

"The dog had bitten a man who was invited on to the property. The dog was not vaccinated and had to be quarantined at the humane society. When I did the final inspection on the dog to release it, I let the owners know that I pretty much considered the dog to be vicious," Tanner said. "After they got the dog back, it actually went out and bit someone else a few days later. They immediately received a citation and I gave them the statutes about owning a vicious dog."

While many dog bites go unreported, Tanner said that if a dog inflicts an intentional bite that breaks the skin, state law requires it to be reported to police.

Owning an aggressive dog has financial costs as well.

"They are usually charged a $15 capture fee, a $5 impound fee and $5 a day for boarding at the humane society during quarantine," Tanner said.

Fines can range in cost depending on the situation.

"There are so many variables with dog calls," Tanner said. "You can't handle them all the same way."

A dog that bites can face tragic consequences, and many times the owner is responsible for the dog's temperament.

Tanner said that dogs often become vicious as a result of how they are raised. Gartner agreed.

"People can make their dogs mean," Gartner said.

"What makes an aggressive dog is their owners and how they are treated," humane society manager, Diane Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said that socialization is the key.

"I have a pit bull that I adopted from here and I had a really hard time with her. How I broke her of it was taking her everywhere I went," Fitzpatrick said. She added that spaying and neutering also helps temper aggression in dogs.

In some cases, one bite may mean euthanization for a dog that is otherwise good-natured.

Fitzpatrick said the dog that bit Kayla Clenney showed no signs of aggression at the humane society, but still had to be euthanized.

"That dog was great with us," Fitzpatrick said. "It's heartbreaking, though, because once they've bit, we have to euthanize. We cannot adopt it out."

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