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Eye On Boise

Moyle introduces overhaul of Idaho’s vicious-dog laws, draws praise from Humane Society, others

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, prepares to present his dangerous-dog legislation to the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday afternoon (Betsy Z. Russell)
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, prepares to present his dangerous-dog legislation to the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday afternoon (Betsy Z. Russell)

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle introduced legislation this afternoon aimed at beefing up Idaho’s dangerous dog laws, but it also would invalidate a half-dozen local county or city ordinances around the state that ban or restrict pit bulls. The bill, introduced in the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, would set minimum state standards for dangerous dogs that bite people, and would allow local governments to adopt stricter rules if they choose – as long as they aren’t “specific to one or more breeds of dogs.”

Moyle said, “Not all pit bulls are bad, but not all Chihuahuas are good. … I believe there’s good and bad actors.” Asked about the existing local ordinances, some of which date back many years in communities ranging from Kellogg to Preston and Fruitland to Payette County, Moyle said, “I didn’t know there were some that were breed-specific. It wasn’t my intention to go out and pick on them.” But he acknowledged the bill would invalidate those breed-specific laws.

Idaho state law currently provides misdemeanor penalties for harboring a vicious dog that’s bit someone. The new bill also contains misdemeanor penalties, but specifies increasing fines and jail time for subsequent offenses; distinguishes between dogs that bite without causing serious injury and those that injure or kill; and allows courts to order dangerous dogs destroyed, or to order lesser measures including that the dogs be confined and not let out without leashes or muzzles. The measure also contains an emergency clause, making it effective as soon as it’s signed into law.

Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, veterinarian and executive director of the Idaho Humane Society, said he was consulted in the bill’s drafting and is strongly supporting it. “I think this is a real improvement over the existing code, which is really outdated, an antique law that really doesn’t serve either the dog victim or the dog owner very well, or society,” he said.

Moyle said he was prompted to propose the legislation by a constituent, former state Parks Director Nancy Merrill, who came to him after her 6-year-old granddaughter was severely injured in an attack by a Rottweiler last summer.

“She had over 200 stitches in her little face,” Merrill said. “The people are trying to say the dog was provoked – the dog was not provoked.” She said after the attack, the same dog attacked a member of its owner’s family and was subsequently euthanized.  Merrill said she and a friend resolved to do something, and met with representatives of the Idaho Humane Society, the Idaho Kennel Club and others to work on ideas.

“It’s been quite a learning process,” she said. She said the kennel club opposed laws that identify any particular breed. There were also concerns about protecting working dogs used by farmers, ranchers and hunters; the bill includes exemptions for those and dogs used by law enforcement. “So we were trying to deal with all of those issues and to help prevent some of these tragedies that are occurring that will leave lifetime scars on those that have been attacked,” Merrill said.

Rosenthal said the Humane Society is strongly opposed to breed-specific laws. “They’re extremely difficult to enforce in a fair manner, for one thing, and they’re basically fallacious,” he said. “The reality is there’s no specific breed anywhere that’s inherently more or less dangerous than another.”

He said Idaho’s current state law “doesn’t protect us from the dogs that are extremely dangerous and have shown a propensity to bite without  provocation. A dog in this state that in an unprovoked manner kills a child, there’s no ability under the code to destroy that animal. At the same time, every single dog attack is treated the same, no matter how minor, under the state code.”

“We think this law that Rep. Moyle has put forward, it’s very similar to other laws that have been enacted around the country in recent years,” Rosenthal said, “and it would improve the ability of local law enforcement to deal with these cases – protecting the rights of dog owners, which is really, really important to us, but also protecting people” from the rare dogs that simply “prove to be too much of a danger to have in our communities.” He said, “It’s a nice, balanced law, and an improvement over what we currently have. It’s not a law that people should be afraid of on either side of the issue.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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