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Dangerous dogs come under scrutiny

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news Rosemount, 55024
Rosemount Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators are considering whether to tighten dangerous dog laws after some well-publicized Minneapolis attacks.

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Lawmakers are talking about regulations as strict as banning some breeds in the state. Other proposals are aimed at dog owners instead of specific breeds.

The House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee could hear up to four dog-related bills Tuesday.

A proposal to ban certain dog breeds, authored by Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, would make it illegal for residents to own any of five dog breeds -- Rottweiler, pit bull, chow chow, akita and wolf hybrids. He said he is not sure whether his proposal will include an outright ban or other regulations.

"You get nipped by a dog, or you get bit by a dog and you get a stitch or two, or a scratch or a scrape, that's not what we're trying to prevent," said Lesch, a St. Paul city attorney who has prosecuted several dangerous dog cases. "We're trying to prevent the severe injuries, maulings, massive medical bills, emergency operating room visits. ..."

Minnesota already has a dangerous dog law. One of its provisions says cities cannot regulate dogs based solely on breed. But Lesch said that needs to change. He said certain dog breeds are inherently dangerous and should not be allowed.

Roseville resident Katie Engman was living in Lesch's St. Paul district in 2005 when a pit bull attacked and killed her 7-year-old beagle, Nalla.

"We turned the corner and before I knew it a dog was on top of us, biting us" Engman said.

Engman's beagle died from its injuries.

Despite her experience, Engman said she is not sure if she supports Lesch's breed ban.

"I'm kind of torn on the issue," Engman said. "If we ban them then they'll just go underground and people will hide their dogs. They won't be licensed and we won't know where the dangerous dogs are. But, I also think there's got to be something done with dogs and owners."

Duluth resident Kathy Zweber owns two American pitt bulls and is vehemently opposed to any ban that would take her dogs from her. She said she is responsible and uses her dogs in an environment that they were bred for, as working farm dogs.

Zweber is angry at the bad reputation pit bulls get, which she blamed on irresponsible dog owners who own the animals for the wrong reasons.

"People have them for arm candy, bling, and for fighting." Zweber said.

Zweber admitted dangerous dogs are a public safety issue and that enhanced legislation is needed. Still, Zweber said, dangerous dogs are not born that way; they are created by irresponsible owners.

Many agree with Zweber, including the Minnesota Animal Control Association and the Humane Society. Both groups worked with Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, to draft a competing bill to Lesch's breed ban.

"What this bill does is really strengthen existing law to restrict dangerous dogs or potentially dangerous dogs," Paymar said. "The onus should be on the owners to control those dogs and to provide penalties for those owners who refuse to abide by the law."

Paymar's bill addresses repeat offenders. Dog owners who have been convicted under the state's dangerous dogs law would face increased penalties for subsequent convictions. Also, under certain circumstances, repeat offenders would not be allowed to own any kind of dog.

Other bills to be considered Tuesday include a proposal from Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, who may sponsor a measure regulating so-called "puppy mills" - large scale breeding operations considered to be inhumane. And Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, is considering reviving his bill from a couple of years ago that would outlaw dog fighting in the state.

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