Pit bulls freed from muzzles

Angle, 6-year-old pit bull-chocolate lab mix, turns her nose to a muzzle, held  by her owner Lorriane Stecher. “She just hates it,” she said.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Angle, 6-year-old pit bull-chocolate lab mix, turns her nose to a muzzle, held by her owner Lorriane Stecher. “She just hates it,” she said.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Leeon and Lorriane Stecher can now walk their pit bull-chocolate lab mix, Angel, in Oak Harbor city limits without a muzzle as a result of the City Council’s decision Wednesday night to repeal a breed-specific ordinance that, some say, unfairly discriminated against pit bulls and their owners.

Oak Harbor’s breed-specific ordinance went into effect in 2006 and required 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. Pit bull owners who didn’t follow the ordinance ran the risk of having their dog impounded or earning a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, jail time up to 90 days, or both.

Now the animal control officer will rely on the “Dangerous Dog and Potentially Dangerous Dog” chapter of the animal control ordinance that deals with animals based on behavior, not breed.

Before the council made their final decision, Councilman Jim Campbell questioned whether the “Dangerous Dog and Potentially Dangerous Dog” chapter was enough to protect the citizens of Oak Harbor.

“We don’t need this because we have sufficient coverage in the one that we already have? Does it also have the hard rules for the owner that has a dog with biting habits?” he asked Police Chief Rick Wallace.

Wallace said yes, and proceeded to read from the “Dangerous Dog and Potentially Dangerous Dog” ordinance that requires the owner of these dogs to keep the animals in a proper enclosure, post a visible warning sign that a dangerous dog is in the area, purchase a surety bond of at least $250,000 or a liability insurance policy, have the animal microchipped and register the dog with the city.

Councilwoman Beth Munns made the motion to repeal the breed specific ordinance, and Campbell seconded her motion. The council unanimously voted to support Munns’ motion, 6-0. Councilman Danny Paggao was not at the meeting.

The changes will make life easier for the Stecher family and other pit bull owners who live in Oak Harbor because pit bulls will no longer be considered dangerous according to the city ordinance.

“It’ll be more convenient to take her on walks,” Lorriane Stecher said, adding that it’ll be nice to walk in town without worry of getting ticketed.

The couple used to drive Angel outside city limits for her walks so they wouldn’t have to put a muzzle on her. The muzzle restricted Angel’s ability to pant, so the couple preferred to walk her where she wasn’t required to wear one.

“The muzzle also scared people because they thought she was a dangerous dog,” she said.

City officials hope the change will also decrease the number of pit bulls surrendered to island animal shelters, and possibly increase their rate of adoption.

The changes will go into effect on Monday, Nov. 16, 2009.

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