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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 09 2009

Dog law drafters want action

A draft law to control dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs in Fargo has languished in the city attorney’s office for more than four months, members of an ad hoc group charged with putting it together say.

The draft ordinance, a beefed-up version of Moorhead’s law, takes a bigger bite out of the pocketbooks of owners whose dogs are considered dangerous or potentially dangerous, said committee member Steve Candor.

Candor went before the City Commission in December, calling on that body to enact a tough dangerous dog law after his dog was mauled in a pit bull attack last September.

The draft law also bans a person from keeping an animal if they’ve violated the law three or more times, Candor said.

“We put some teeth in it,” Candor said.

But nothing has happened, he said.

“I’d like to get this thing passed. I think it’s got a lot of merit,” he said.

Fargo police Lt. Greg Lemke said the group got its work done in three months, submitting it for approval by the city attorney’s office April 1.

But two months later, the attorney who was to review the law left that office. The attorney who took over responsibility then had to take leave for the birth of a child.

The delays have raised some hackles, Lemke said.“It’s just been stuck there. It’s been very frustrating for our group, wondering what’s going on and what’s going to happen,” Lemke said.

Attempts to determine the status of the dangerous dog ordinance were unsuccessful Thursday and Friday, as staff at the office of City Attorney Erik Johnson and Assistant City Attorney Robert “Butch” McConn said both men were on vacation.

The draft law does not target specific breeds, Candor said.

Lemke said the draft law allows for the possibility of having a dog once considered potentially dangerous to be taken off the list after training, testing and a year of good behavior.

The draft law has components aimed at animal well-being, too, including limits on how long dogs can be tethered or left unattended, plus shelter and welfare requirements. It’s also written to make it easier for police to enforce barking dog laws, Lemke said.

“It’s basically making people more responsible for their animals,” Candor said.

Candor wants swift action on the dangerous dog law so it also can be offered to Moorhead and West Fargo as a potential metrowide solution.

Candor’s wife, Judy, had been walking their German shepherd mix, Mischief, about 10:20 a.m. Sept. 14 two blocks east of their home, according to a police report.

Then, a pit bull attacked Mischief and ripped a 12- to 14-inch gash of skin and fur from her back, Candor said.

The owner of the pit bull pleaded guilty to failing to confine a vicious dog and paid a $500 fine, court documents show. He was also ordered to pay $2,562.13 for Mischief’s medical bills, documents show.

“I think it’s something the city needs, and I don’t just want it to drop. The longer it sits there without enactment, the harder it is to get through,” Candor said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583