Emotions ran high Tuesday as Mandan discussed potential revisions to its vicious dog ordinance in light of last month’s dog attack, which left two people injured, including a 7-year-old girl.
About 50 citizens — some dog owners, some not — attended the Mandan City Commission, and of the 15 individuals who spoke, opinions about the city’s existing ordinance were a mixed bag.
Mandan's current ordinance states that “no person shall own, keep, possess or harbor a vicious dog within city limits” and defines a vicious dog as one “that, without provocation, bites or attacks human beings or other animals, either on public or private property, or in a vicious or terrorizing manner, approaches any person in apparent attitude of attack upon a street, sidewalk or any public ground or place.”
The ordinance does not ban specific breeds of dogs, and it could include additional measures, such as certain requirements as to how these dogs are restrained and owner responsibilities.
Prior to the discussion being opened to the public, commissioners weighed in on the ordinance, as well as the presence of vicious dogs in the community.
“Some of these dogs in our community do make me nervous,” said Commissioner Scott Davis. “I’m a parent, I have small kids … I get nervous when a certain breed of dog comes near my children or comes through my neighborhood.”
He said he’s not sure if a citywide ban on a specific breed is necessary and isn’t ready to decide if changes should be made to the existing ordinance, stating more research needs to be done.
Commissioner Dennis Rohr said an individual can be bit by any breed of dog.
“You can be bit by a little yapper, too,” he said. “But certain dogs that are more vicious tend to attack and tend not to let go.”
Commissioner Mike Braun fought back tears when discussing the ordinance, which he said is “solid.”
“If my dog attacks someone, like these two women, my dog would go down. And I love my animal,” he said. “But in the end, it’s all of us that are most important. Human beings are most important.”
“If you are a pet owner and your dog attacks someone, and you didn’t expect it, you didn’t anticipate it, you didn’t prepare for it … you are wrong. If it pulls out of your hand, you are wrong. If it wasn’t on a leash, you are wrong,” he added.
Mayor Tim Helbling said he owns a dog, but doesn’t own a leash.
“My dog goes out in the yard, runs around. When we’re gone, he’s in the house. I’m breaking the current law as it stands,” he said. “We can write anything we want on paper and, if the owners don’t follow it, it doesn’t do any good.”
One of the 15 citizens who spoke Tuesday night was Wes Geiger, father of the 7-year-old girl who was attacked by two pit bulls while out for a walk with her mother on July 22.
While showing the commission photos of his daughter’s injuries, Geiger pointed to a deep leg laceration and said, “The bite was so hard right there, it broke her leg.”
“I’m calling on you to do the right thing with the ordinance, whether you have to change it or not. But right now, it is a Class B misdemeanor, $1,500, 30 days max,” he said. “If I were to go to someone’s house and carve up their kid with a knife, I would be doing a lot more time than that, because somebody didn’t raise me right.”
Resident Haley Sampsill said she has three dogs, including a pit bull mix and a Siberian husky.
“I don’t know a single person that has met my dogs who does not think they are the biggest teddy bears. The only tackling or chasing you’ll get from them is playing or love,” she said. “I think the ordinances that we have today stand firm and work well.”
Pit bull owner and resident Dave Hanson said he feels the commission needs to address the leash law and owners’ control of their dogs.
“Every time somebody gets bit, are we going to ban that dog?” he asked. “I’m a mailman and I’ve been bit more by little dogs than I have by big dogs. I don’t want this ban. The ordinances you have are fine.”
Mandan City Prosecutor Dan Nagle, who handles cases that lead to criminal prosecution for vicious dogs, said that 80 percent of the approximate four cases he handles a year deal with “one specific breed.”
“And of the cases I’ve prosecuted, I would venture to guess that well over half of them were situations where the dog owner was trying to be responsible … gate got kicked open, dog chewed through the leash, dug a hole and got under the fence,” he said. “The dog got out, saw somebody, took off and there was a horrible incident that took place.”
No changes were made to the vicious dog ordinance Tuesday night. The commission plans to do more research, and collect more public input, before revisiting the topic at a future meeting.