There are 62 dogs in the City of Omaha listed as potentially dangerous, but Matthew Lane's mixed-breed pit bull is no longer one of them.
That's because the 11-year-old dog, Dallas, and Lane worked their way off the list created five years ago by the City Council and monitored by the Nebraska Humane Society. Mark Langan, vice president of field operations for the Humane Society, said 42 dogs and their owners have been removed from the list since Omaha adopted “some of the toughest dog laws in the nation.”
“I took full responsibility for my dog because I understand the way a lot of cities feel about pit bulls,” Lane said.
Five years after Omaha's strict rules were enacted, city leaders, animal control workers and those who pushed for the change say they're pleased with the results.
The ordinance was adopted in 2008 after a vicious pit bull attack on a toddler and her mother in South Omaha. The ordinance includes:
» Restrictions on pit bulls;
» Not allowing dogs to be tied up and alone in a yard for more than 15 minutes;
» Sanctions for reckless owners;
» Rehabilitation steps for potentially dangerous dogs;
» The creation of a breed ambassador program where dogs earn a special vest to wear by passing control tests.
The ordinance followed the June 25, 2008, mauling of Wendy Blevins and her 1-year-old daughter, Charlotte, by a neighbor's pit bull while they were out for a walk.
Charlotte, who nearly died, underwent nine reconstructive surgeries and is now a “typical first-grader,” her mother said.
Wendy Blevins said she took it upon herself to attend every City Council meeting while a task force was crafting the ordinance. She said she is pleased with the result.
“It is one of the most extensive ordinances anywhere out there, and I know because I did a ton of research on the subject,” Blevins said. “My goal was to protect all the other kids in the city so they would never have to deal with the same thing that happened to Charlotte.”
Pit bulls that are not in the ambassador program now are required to wear a muzzle and must be on a leash when outside their yard. Langan said the number of pit bull bites reported has dropped each year since the ordinance was adopted, going from 123 in 2008 to 38 in 2012.
Reports of dog bites by all breeds, however, have increased since the adoption of the ordinance. Langan attributes that to increased public awareness. That, he said, means bites that weren't previously being reported now are being called in.
Todd Stosuy, president of the National Animal Control Agency, presented the Nebraska Humane Society an award as the most outstanding animal control organization in the United States on Sept. 5 in Atlanta. Stosuy praised the Humane Society for “effectively responding to citizen complaints.”
Fellow NACA board member Jamie McAloon-Lampman, director of animal control in Ingham County, Mich., said she is especially impressed by the portion of Omaha's ordinance that bans dogs from being tied up in a yard for more than 15 minutes without adult supervision. Research has shown that tethered dogs are less likely to be socialized and more likely to be aggressive, she said.
Omaha City Councilman Garry Gernandt, a member of the dog ordinance task force, said the law is working. It has raised awareness of potential problems among dog owners and gives them constructive ways to address them, he said.
“It seems to me that we did the right thing, and I think the stats show that,” Gernandt said.
Dogs like Dallas, that commit two infractions within a three-year period, can be placed on the potentially dangerous animal list. Dogs placed on the list are required to be neutered, have a tracking microchip implanted and be insured for up to $100,000 in damages.
The dog's owner must also attend a class for responsible owners as well as pet behavior class with the dog. The classes must be taken within 90 days of the dog being designated as potentially dangerous.
Dallas is now a breed ambassador but landed on the potentially dangerous dog list after two incidents when children playing with the dog incurred minor injuries. Lane's 4-year-old daughter received a cut on her brow by bumping heads with Dallas, and the dog left teeth marks on a neighbor boy's arm when they were playing fetch.
“I understood where the city was coming from, but Dallas didn't mean to hurt either of them,” Lane said. “The coolest thing was the instructors ended up using my dog as an example for the rest of the class because he is well-behaved.”
Dogs that continue to attack and seriously injure humans or other animals can be deemed dangerous by animal control officers, taken away from their owner and destroyed.
Langan said owners like Lane make the ordinance work. He said Omaha's dog owners are showing heightened awareness of the law and have “stepped up to the plate” to comply.
“The worst part of this job is having to take an animal away from its family,” Langan said. “That only happens three or four times a year, and we do everything in our power to help rehabilitate the animal so we don't have to do that.”