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Oak Harbor targets pit bull ordinance for extinction

Oak Harbor officials will review the city’s breed-specific restrictions earlier than planned thanks to a little noise from Bob Baker and Barbara Moran, the couple who filed suit against Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation late last year to save Smiley, a shelter dog, from euthanasia.

In an email sent to City Administrator Paul Schmidt earlier this month, the couple questioned the city’s breed-specific ordinance and its effect on pit bull adoptions.

“How many people in Oak Harbor will even try to adopt these dogs knowing they have to build them a cage and keep them muzzled?” they wrote.

Baker and Moran’s affection for pit bulls is well known after their fight to save Smiley, though he didn’t turn out to be a pit bull. Smiley made regional headlines after he was dognapped from the animal shelter, and later found on South Whidbey.

Oak Harbor’s breed-specific ordinance went into effect in 2006 and requires pit bull owners who live within city limits to house the controversial canines in a secure pen and muzzle the animals while on leash, among other restrictions.

Owners who don’t follow the ordinance will have their dog impounded and could get slapped with a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, jail time up to 90 days, or both.

In addition to the requirements placed on dog owners, the ordinance also requires the animal control officer to be an expert on the animals, Police Chief Rick Wallace said at a public safety standing committee meeting Thursday.

“If there was action taken, he could end up on the stand,” Wallace said, referring to Animal Control Officer Terry Sampson. “It wouldn’t take much of a legal defense to challenge.”

“From an animal control officer’s point of view, this is a really difficult issue,” Wallace said.

The burden would be on the city to prove any delinquent dog’s breed, and that may mean Oak Harbor would have to foot the bill for a doggie DNA test.

From an enforcement point of view, it’s almost impossible, Wallace said, adding that from a practical point of view, there’s not that many bite complaints each year.

“I don’t want this to turn into an emotional thing,” Schmidt said after the meeting. “We’re looking at it strictly as a fact-based issue.”

And the fact is, breed determination can be a tricky and costly business.

“Our own insurance doesn’t recommend BSL,” Schmidt said, referring to breed-specific legislation. “We support the behavior-based approach.”

The public safety standing committee will likely forward a recommendation to the council to do away with Ordinance 1479, also known as the breed-specific ordinance.

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