The city of Aberdeen is in a tough position.
For the second time in just a few years, officials are considering a ban on pit bulls. The spark this time was an incident in October in which a dog — believed by the city to be a pit bull — got loose from its home and killed another dog in a garage. The first dog was shot, but not killed, by the Aberdeen Police Department and wandered the streets for days before being found.
And the breed-ban discussion began again.
We can sympathize with the Aberdeen City Council, charged with keeping residents safe. It would seem very simple to ban pit bulls — and, we suppose, other breeds deemed dangerous — but, from a purely pragmatic point of view, a ban will be impossible to enforce.
In fact, the ban likely wouldn't prevent an incident like October's from happening again. A ban would be punitive rather than preventative.
But something must be done. The fall incident was too public, the damage too great, for the city to sit on its hands this time.
Rather than create an ordinance with no teeth that would just give the perception of safety, we'd like to see the city take a multipronged approach that gets to the true heart of the problem and the solution: the dog owners.
• Institute a harsh fining system for all pet owners whose dogs get loose — no matter the breed. Create a heftier fine still for owners whose loose pets cause property damage. The stiffest penalty should be levied for people whose pets kill or injure a human or another pet.
• Strict enforcement of current animal ordinances, including leash laws and tagging. Consider also requiring microchipping for pets.
• Send an annual pamphlet to all residents explaining our animal ordinances: what pets are allowed, which aren't, and proper safety and legal requirements. Educate pet owners.
• The city should, in conjunction with recognized groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Humane Society of the United States, or the American Kennel Club, create a list of breeds, identifying which are most likely to cause human, animal or property damage.
This could serve as an "invite" list for a monthly pet owners' meeting, sponsored by the city, to allow residents to express concerns, learn about the law and discuss ways to own pets responsibly.
• Animal control officer John Weaver should also be available for by-request inspections of homes to help pet owners be sure they are in compliance, that fences and gates are secure and that their pets won't be causing harm. Firefighters do these inspections, and animal control can do those, too.
A process such as this will put the onus on the humans — city officials and pet owners — to work together to have a safe, friendly environment for the furry and furless.
We do not have an epidemic, as some cities do. No dog-fighting ring has been broken up, and there aren't packs of wild dogs running the streets. For the most part, pet owners are doing the responsible things.
Some good should come from the horrible incident in October. The city should take the lead in encouraging responsible pet ownership.