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It's time to muzzle the dangerous dogs

May 06, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

One look at the picture of 6-year-old Hope Kurzawa in last Friday's Herald-Mail, her face stitched up in the aftermath of a dog attack, and anyone with an ounce of compassion knows the law must be changed to reduce the possibility of something like this happening again.

The dog involved in the attack, a pit bull/chow/Shar-Pei mix, will be put to death sometime in the next two weeks, but only because its owner requested it.

Under the present ordinance, called "vague" by Assistant State's Attorney Joe Michael, the administrator of the Humane Society can declare that a dog is a vicious and dangerous animal. The owner can appeal that within 10 days.

Owners of dogs declared vicious must keep them confined, or when they're outside, they must be muzzled and leashed. Maria Procopio, administrator of the Washington County Humane Society, says breed-specific laws that would outlaw or greatly restrict dogs like pit bulls don't really work. Any dog can be trained to be vicious, she said.

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On the other side is Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, who wants pit bulls registered and muzzled when outside. He also feels owners should be required to get insurance for them.

Procopio may be right, but the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that a million people each year seek medical attention as a result of dog bites and 60 percent of those victims are children.

Procopio is correct when she says that any dog can be trained to be vicious, but give attack training to pit bull or any other dangerous breed and you get an animal much worse than if the same training were given to a collie or a cocker spaniel.

Chief Smith is right. The time to act is now, before someone else's child is hurt. Dangerous breeds should be registered, muzzled in public and their owners required to carry insurance.

And we'd go further: If a child is attacked due to an owner's negligence, there should be criminal penalties. Just as gun owners are held responsible if they use their weapons irresponsibly, dog owners should also face jail time if their negligence leads to an attack.

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