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We advocate on all animal protection and exploitation issues, including experimentation, factory farming, rodeos, breeders and traveling animal acts.

Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704

Articles

'Dangerous' Dog Registry

NY TIMES, March 5, 2006, Westchester section:
NY TIMES
March 5, 2006, Sunday  
Westchester Weekly

COUNTY LINES; County's Latest Perp Walk, on All Fours

By Marek Fuchs

YOU'VE heard of Megan's Law, right? Well, the best and brightest in Westchester's bureaucracy have now come up with a kind of Megan's Law for dogs.

With the help of town and village clerks, the county is putting a cruel-canines list online, at Westchester.gov. That is, if the town and village clerks ever get around to helping. Before I go any further, let me admit to feelings of apprehension. Not toward county officials -- who despite all my criticisms gamely return phone calls and behave with civility. Rather, it is dog owners who inspire fear and trembling.

The last time I suggested anything in print about dogs -- in that case, that they should be leashed in public -- I received a telephone call threatening physical harm and another creatively describing a plan to pile dog excrement in front of my apartment door. (I was living in the city then; here's hoping suburban readers are more genteel and favor e-mail messaging -- to fuchs@nytimes.com -- over telephoning.)

The idea of an offender registry for dogs seemed illogical at the outset because I had been laboring under the mistaken belief that vicious dogs are normally just put to ''sleep.'' But it turns out that in New York State, as in much of the country, the process is lengthier and more legalistic.

Anyone who undergoes or witnesses a dog attack or threat can make a complaint, but then the matter goes to a judge, who has wide discretion. A judge can order everything from evaluation by a certified behaviorist, to muzzling, to microchipping, to an increase in the owner's liability insurance, to home confinement. The judge can also order ''humane euthanasia,'' as the law puts it.

Additionally, since the end of 2004 the law has required the owners of dogs deemed dangerous by a judge to register them every year with their village, town or city clerk. Which means, at least in theory, that anyone who wants to know how many nippy mutts there are in the neighborhood can go down to the village clerk's office and find out.

But all this depends an awful lot on the honor system. There is a $250 fine for not registering a dangerous dog, but perhaps some are risking it, rather than turning their beloved Spot into an identified public enemy.

''My dog has bitten me and my brother, but he's not declared dangerous,'' said Debbie Henneberry, who is, somewhat paradoxically, clerk of Ardsley. Although the village now has an official list of dangerous dogs, she said, it is not very extensive. In fact, even finding a way to license all the dogs in Ardsley is a challenge. ''We have 1,400 households and only 120 licensed dogs,'' she said, and her implication was clear.

I figured that maybe the cities would have bigger numbers of dangerous dogs registered, their names ready to pass along to the county for the online master list.

But Joan Deierlein, the city clerk in Yonkers, said, as did seven other clerks I spoke to, that so far no dangerous dogs were locally registered.

Letter carriers would seem to be natural advocates for the registry. But Robert Morton, president of Letter Carriers Local Branch 693, which covers several dozen post offices in Westchester, said that wasn't necessarily true, because post offices already have a detailed internal system designed to warn carriers of problem dogs.

Each carrier has a sorting case in which he or she posts detailed information about dogs on the daily route. A dog may be described as friendly normally, for instance, but territorial if outside with the children.

Letter carriers, said Mr. Morton, would probably never have use for a computer system that merely catalogs potentially troublesome dogs.

Dog lovers, unsurprisingly, don't love the list idea, either. Kiley Blackman, a spokeswoman for the Animal Defenders of Westchester, accused county officials of trying to score cheap political points by announcing a policy that is half-baked and could eventually even lead to breed ''profiling.''

''The county is appearing to do something here,'' she said, ''without actually doing so much.''

But the county is doing something. It is keeping us safe from unruly cocker spaniels now, as well as school bullies -- or, at least, expending considerable effort telling us that it is keeping us safe.

When I called the county to ask questions about this new policy, three top officials got on a conference call with me.

Images: Drawing (Drawing by Nancy Doniger)

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


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