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Lancaster officials adopt dog ordinance

January 27, 2009 |  9:06 pm

                               

Despite fierce criticism, Lancaster city officials have unanimously adopted an ordinance that would impose stiff penalties for owners of “potentially dangerous” and “vicious” dogs.

The law targets dogs such as pit bulls and Rottweilers -- breeds that law enforcement officials say are favored by gang members, who often use them to terrorize people.

The ordinance would also require the spaying and neutering of all varieties of pit bulls and Rottweilers, including mutts that have "predominant physical characteristics" of those breeds. The measure will go into effect in 30 days.

Opponents of the ordinance turned out in force at the council's meeting Tuesday night and argued that the new law could lead to racial profiling by law enforcement officials, who they said might unfairly accuse black or Latino males seen with a pit bull as a gang-bangers.

But Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, who pushed for the new regulations, said he was confident that law enforcements officials could properly identify gang members.

Some critics suggested that Parris invite gang members to sit down and discuss the issue. But the mayor dismissed this idea.

“I have no desire to work with them,” he said. “I have no desire to help them. The only thing I want to do is crush them and remove them from the community. ... The days of accommodating a gang member are over.”

Under the new law, dogs that are unprovoked and engage in aggressive behavior, requiring a person to take defensive action, may be found to be “potentially dangerous.”

And dogs that are trained to be aggressive for fighting, inflict severe injury or death or are already listed as potentially dangerous may be determined to be “vicious."

Owners face numerous penalties, including a fine of up to $500 for each offense committed by a potentially dangerous dog, and up to $1,000 per offense for a vicious dog.

The city’s tough approach to gangs has spurred officials to step up safety measures. A guard is posted at the entrance of the council chambers to search visitors before public meetings, and at least one sheriff’s deputy is typically in attendance.

Other residents at Tuesday’s council meeting expressed anger over the new law singling out pit bulls and Rottweilers for mandatory spaying and neutering. Some worry that the surgical procedure could prove harmful to certain dogs.

Others insisted that if deprived of their pit bull and Rottweilers, gang members would simply train another breed of dog to be vicious.

-- Ann Simmons

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