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Oak Harbor Council may muzzle pit bull laws

Barring any unforeseen objections, Oak Harbor officials plan to repeal the city’s breed-specific restrictions next Tuesday at the City Council’s first and only meeting this month.

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 last August.

“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 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,” City Administrator Paul 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.”

Both the public safety standing committee and governmental service committee reviewed the issue and recommend the council drop Ordinance 1479, also known as the breed-specific ordinance.

The council will make a final decision at their next meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 6. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at city hall, 865 SE Barrington Dr. Visit www.oakharbor.org to view the meeting agenda.

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