Vancouver calls off talk of ban on pit bulls

City council instead eyes strengthening dangerous dog laws

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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A ban on pit bulls is no longer on the table for the Vancouver City Council.

During city council communications Monday night, a majority of the council’s seven members said they’re not interested in hearing about breed-specific legislation to ban pit bulls. Rather, the council said its interest lies in adding more bite to the city’s dangerous dog laws.

Vancouver’s ordinances regarding dangerous dogs aren’t as strong as Clark County’s, City Attorney Ted Gathe said.

In the county, most dogs that bite receive a Potentially Dangerous Dog label, along with citations for violations that occurred during the event, Animal Control Director Paul Scarpelli told the city council in an email. That label does not exist under current Vancouver city code.

Once labeled a Potentially Dangerous Dog, any further incidents are handled by the county’s Dangerous Dog Code, Scarpelli said. Most owners surrender dogs labeled as dangerous, because it’s difficult to meet the standards required to keep a dangerous dog, he said.

City councilors talked about their squeamishness around banning one dog breed, saying that it could be a slippery slope.

“What I’m hearing from a majority of council is we don’t want to hear about banning specific breeds right now,” Mayor Tim Leavitt said.

However, Councilwoman Jeanne Harris said the emails she has received from people have been about 50-50 for and against a ban. She also noted that the issue was a serious one, brought forward by a Vancouver resident in late May following the unprovoked attack on a 9-year-old boy by a pack of three unspayed and unlicensed pit bulls.

“This is highly unusual for council, for us to make up our minds before we hear both sides of the story,” said Harris, who added she isn’t advocating either side, but just to hear all options.

The boy, a Harney Elementary School student, received bites to his ear and body, but is expected to make a full recovery. The dogs were surrendered to the county.

The city council has been in the crossfire of pit bull proponents and detractors since the attack and talk of the ban. At least two well-attended pit bull events have been held in the weeks since the attack, with local pit bull owners calling for more regulation of bad owners.

Most of the councilors said that updating Vancouver’s vicious and dangerous dog laws first would probably address the problem, and if not, they could readdress the issue. The city council will talk about the code updates during an Aug. 8 workshop.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall.