Should dog ownership be limited?

Auburn municipal code doesn’t cap number of pets in a home
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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In the wake of a recent pitbull attack in Downtown Auburn, some have started to question the city’s dog ownership policies. While pet owners are required to have a license for any dog four months and older there is no municipal code stating how many four-legged companions can reside at one home. “As far as we know there’s not a municipal code that says how many dogs you can have,” said Kim Reed, community service officer with Auburn Police. Reed, who started with the department in October 2008, is also the animal control officer for the city. Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn said city staff are currently reviewing Auburn codes, including the one regarding animals. Some provisions in the code are still in the same language written in 1973 while other provisions have been updated as recently as April 1997. Reed said the code-review process began before four pitbulls attacked and seriously injured a teen in Downtown Auburn in mid-September. The dogs have been quarantined since the Sept. 16 attack and remain in Auburn Police custody. The investigation is almost complete and police reiterated that they expect to file charges soon. A limit to dog ownership? Auburn resident Mike Zuvella knows what it’s like to take care of four dogs. The self-proclaimed animal lover and his family have four canines. Zuvella said he believes that as long as owners take care of their animals and have them well trianed, there should be no limit on how many a person can own. “People need to make the right choices with their pets,” Zuvella said. “If you can teach and train them, there should be no limits.” Auburn resident Marilyn Carter disagreed. Carter wrote a letter to the editor following the pitbull attack wondering just how many animals a homeowner can own. “There should be an ordinance for a certain amount,” Carter said. Carter suggested at two-animal limit. She said in other cities she’s lived in that was the requirement and it “seemed to work well.” 7 dog bites in a year Reed said as the city’s animal control officer she typically responds to barking complaints and reports of deceased animals. “Usually in the summer we get more barking complaints because dogs are outdoors and people are outside enjoying the nice weather,” Reed said. Zuvella said his dogs usually rouse him very early with their barking but he says a quick verbal command quiets them. Reed said the city counts reported dog bites. Between Oct. 1, 2008 and Sept. 30, 2009, the city recorded seven dog bites, three of which were dogs biting owners. The most recent dog attack is included in that seven-bite figure, according to Ruffcorn. Ruffcorn added that five cat bites were reported to the city in that same time period. Reed said the majority are reports of dogs biting owners. She said typically the bites are not aggressive and more accidental such as when an owner feed a pet from their hand, Reed said. Typically, when a pet owner seeks medical treatment for a dog bite, their doctor is mandated to report it. The city is advised and the pet owner is required to then quarantine their dog for 14 days, according to city code, to ensure the animal does not have rabies. Reed said officers will make visits to a home to make sure that the pet is being properly quarantined. Reed, who was not working the day the pitbulls bit the teen, said dogs are left in the care of owners on a case-by-case basis. Owner training vs. canine behavior Zuvella said owners have a strong influence on a dog’s behavior. He recalled a former neighbor who owned a pitbull Zuvella describe as “the best dog in the neighborhood.” He said while there are some dogs that have innate behavioral problems, he believes that if they are trained from an early age, they will be obedient pets. “It’s the owner, not the dog, 90 percent of the time,” Zuvella. Jenifer Gee can be reached at