The city’s answer to reining in aggressive pit bulls may be to step up licensing and penalty fees levied against their owners, according to acting Mayor Gary McCarthy.
“We will review what is on the books and what we can do to deter people from having these dogs and creating these problems that exist,” he said.
McCarthy offered his proposal Tuesday night during a City Council committee meeting. The council is reviewing the issue following separate attacks on Aug. 22 and Aug. 30 by pit bulls. In the first incident, three pit bulls mauled city resident Shirleen Lucas as she was running errands on Hulett Street. Lucas required nearly 200 stitches to close injuries that ran nearly from head to toe. In the second, two pit bulls attacked a mail carrier in the area of 623 Bluff Ave. The carrier sustained puncture wounds.
McCarthy said any changes to licensing and penalty fees will require a public hearing, and he does not expect any action until late September or early October. He added any increase in fees may require a review of how to enforce them.
Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said he would recommend the city ban all dogs deemed too aggressive by insurance companies. Companies that provide homeowner’s insurance will often deny coverage to homeowners or require they purchase high-risk insurance if they own certain breeds. According to insurance industry representatives, the breeds include pit bulls, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, bull mastiffs, Akitas and Rottweilers. These breeds are known for aggressive attitudes and for causing severe wounds when they attack.
“What we do with a dog that cannot be insured is we exclude it. We need to determine what breeds cannot be insured — there is a reason for that, and we should exclude them,” Van Norden said. “How do you determine a good pit bull from a bad pit bull? You can’t and we can’t put the public at risk,” he said.
City officials categorically rejected a proposal by Schenectady County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals allowing its officers to write tickets for loose dogs in the city.
Mathew B. Tully, chief humane law enforcement officer for the Schenectady County SPCA, in August sent a letter to all municipalities in Schenectady County urging them to consider consolidating animal control services.
“We have a problem with Tully’s proposal,” Van Norden said. “They will be enforcing city law. They are not city employees and I have no control over them should they issue a ticket that is contested,” he said. Tully’s staff consists of volunteers.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett added there are legal and liability issues involved in Tully’s proposal.
The Animal Protective Foundation offered another solution. It suggested the city build an animal shelter, as required by state Agriculture and Markets Law.
“As we have indicated in multiple correspondences and meetings with corporation counsel over the past several years, the APF cannot and will not enter into a contractual arrangement with the city as we are unable to meet all of the city’s needs related to animal control,” according to Marguerite Pearson, APF spokeswoman.
The APF was not designed as a municipal facility, as it lacks shelter space for isolation, quarantine and containment of animals.
Van Norden said a shelter is “an unfunded mandate. Since 2004, we have received threatening correspondences to have a contract in place.”
He said the city has been contracting with Montgomery County SPCA on a dog-by-dog basis to take in strays.