News

City shies away from singling out certain dogs

BY PHILIP PALERMO

The Mirror

A City Council committee has recommended beefing up Federal Way’s laws governing dangerous dogs, opting not to single out specific breeds.

The Parks, Recreation and Public Safety Committee members talked about possible additions to the city code at their May 8 meeting, with much of the discussion revolving around how to define a dangerous dog.

According to documents from the meeting, the city’s current definition of a dangerous dog follows the state’s description:

• The dog inflicts severe injury on a human without provocation, or kills a domestic animal without provocation while not on the owner’s property.

• The dog has already been found potentially dangerous, the owner has received notice and the dog again aggressively attacks or endangers the safety of a human being.

The committee’s recommendation, which is scheduled to go before the full council in June, is to add three criteria to the list.

If the changes are approved by the council, the city’s definition of dangerous dogs would include those that bite without provocation, attack without provocation or have been known to attack without provocation to injure or endanger humans or domestic animals.

The three-person committee voted against a fourth proposal to identify specific breeds as dangerous.

“I wouldn’t want to single out one breed,” said Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge, the committee’s chairwoman.

She added that specifying breeds could lead owners of others breeds to assume their dogs are safe.

Councilwoman Linda Kochmar, the lone council member in favor of breed-specific definitions, cited the city of Auburn’s recent incidents of dangerous dogs involving certain breeds. When Auburn first amended its dog laws, she said, they didn’t include breed-specific language.

“They were sorry they didn’t,” Kochmar said.

The Auburn City Council approved additional regulations in February, adding breed-specific language to their definitions of potentially dangerous dogs.

Federal Way Councilman Jim Ferrell said his city’s history with dangerous dogs differs from Auburn’s.

“I don’t think our experience in Federal Way mandates that kind of action,” he said.

With fellow committee members taking stances against breed-specific additions, Kochmar asked that the addition be at least reconsidered next year. The committee voted to leave breed-specific language for another time.

The committee also recommended banning dangerous dogs from the city and upping the penalty for violations of dangerous-dog laws from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. Ferrell said a gross misdemeanor could mean up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Burbidge recommended making sure the penalties are well-known in the hope they serve as a deterrent.

Kevin Morris, who volunteers at the city’s French Lake off-leash dog park, said he’s against breed-specific legislation, adding dogs shouldn’t be punished for the sins of their owners.

Morris also said the off-leash park is an effective method for reducing aggression in dogs because it helps them socialize with other canines and humans. The park, he said, also allows dogs to expend excess energy.

“That is one of the most proactive means available,” he said.

Staff writer Philip Palermo: 925-5565, ppalermo@fedwaymirror.com

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