Streamline Protection from Vicious Dogs

July 17, 2008 8:34:17 PM PDT
This week's dog attack on a postal carrier has forced Fresno county officials to re-examine the way they try to rein in vicious dogs. The same dogs that attacked the postal carrier also attacked a partially blind 77-year-old woman and killed some puppies belonging to neighbors.

A history of violent behavior can land a pack of dogs in cages at the SPCA, but not always and not especially often either.

The same dogs that attacked a postal carrier in the Mayfair county island near central Fresno also are on record committing two previous acts of aggression -- both less than two weeks before the biting attack. "It would've been nice if we dealt with it sooner rather than later," said county supervisor Henry Perea.

Perea spearheaded efforts to pass Tyler's Law to give SPCA officers and sheriff's deputies more leeway to round up dangerous dogs before they become repeat offenders.

The law is named for Tyler Babcock, who was killed by dogs that had threatened his neighborhood for a while before the attack. It passed in 2005 and the county has invested about $100,000 a year to help with enforcement.

But there haven't been any Tyler's Law hearings that could potentially keep someone from owning pets if they allowed their dog to take part in an attack. "The living document we have, Tyler's Law, is working," said Perea. "Is it working the best that it can? No. And this is a great example of how we need to be vigilant and do better." The SPCA says part of the problem with the process of policing dogs is that they need concrete proof before seizing animals.

"Dates, times, photos, videotape," said Beth Caffrey of the Central California SPCA. "If you have animals in your neighborhood that are doing something on an ongoing basis, give us some hard evidence."

So while the postal carrier attack has highlighted some holes in the defense provided by Tyler's Law, it's also given the county a chance to perfect the process of protecting people.

"This has everybody's attention," said Perea. "I can tell you there are a lot of people paying attention to this right now."

As of this week, the county has changed which department would take care of Tyler's Law hearings.

The environmental health department will take care of them instead of the agriculture department and they're working to streamline the process now.
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