Newton residents have urged public officials to review vicious dog ordinances, with one citizen saying the code benefits the animals more than the victims.
Max Tipton, 86, of Newton, told the city council Aug. 1 about his wife, Kathy, who was bitten by a neighbor’s dog a few days earlier. Although he was not home at the time of the incident, he learned that 78-year-old Kathy was outside in the front yard. The dog was loose and Max insisted that it was not the first time.
“I’ve been waiting for someone to get hurt because of that dog,” Max said. “Well, my wife was watering the flowers. The dog was loose. The girl had it off her with the leash. The dog attacked my wife. It could have been much worse. We thank God it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
Council members were told the dog had knocked Kathy down and had her arm in its mouth, leaving teeth marks and lacerations. Images of Kathy’s injuries were shared with the Newton News during a follow-up interview on August 15. Although most of the bruising has disappeared, a large wound is still healing.
“This was all black and blue,” Kathy said, pointing to her forearm. “Something put me down. And it’s been three weeks of recovery from the stress on my back. The chiropractor told me, ‘You’re a bruised mess.’ My doctor is sending me to physical therapy.”
Doctors usually do not sew up the hands or feet of animal bites because there is a high risk of infection. The seam would only increase the chance of infection. However, depending on the severity of the bite, some doctors will recommend stitches. Kathy did not have to receive stitches; the doctors pulled the skin over her wound.
“We’re very lucky that he didn’t have a heart attack or worse,” Max said. “I plead guilty to being one of those (people) who doesn’t care about a problem until it happens to you… So I’m guilty tonight on that count. But the city code on the vicious dog, it seems to me as I read it is in favor of the dog.”
If he attacked someone unprovoked, Max said he would expect them to be led away in handcuffs. But the dog, he said, is going home.
“I think the city, and the reason I’m here, needs to take another look at the city code,” Max said. “And I understand the lack of funds and I know that (JCARL) is closed. I understand all those things. And I understand that the police can only operate within the code… But I urge the city to look at that again.”
OTHER RESIDENTS ARE TAKING ADVICE
Another resident complained of loose dogs and dog bites during the July 18 city council meeting. Donna Stumme, of Newton, said that in the last two weeks her neighborhood experienced three instances of two loose dogs venturing onto someone else’s property. It is suggested that some of these dogs are acting aggressively.
Councilman Mark Hallam spoke for Stumme saying the number of admissions of stray or suspected abandoned animals, mostly dogs, to the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines is increasing “significantly” and is on track to exceed the year’s numbers. past.
“These are just the ones that were reported,” Stumme said. “I know I found two recently in my community where the dog on a leash killed one pet and then bit another, and that hasn’t been reported. Right now we’re on target with 24 bites to beat last year by quite a bit.”
According to police department data, there have been 24 dog bite calls so far in 2022. The previous year had 34 dog bite calls. From 2012 to 2022, there have been a total of 306 dog bite calls. The largest amount occurred in 2019 with 38 calls. The lowest number of dog bite calls occurred in 2014 with 16 calls.
Stumme has also personally experimented with vicious dogs. He recalled hearing “fierce barking” in his driveway and immediately called 911. The dog returned about four times and said the aggression was significant. Stumme also mentioned the city code, suggesting that there are parts that are not supportive of victims.
“The problem is everywhere,” he said, urging that more education and perhaps council action is needed.
Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess said residents with a troublesome or vicious dog must adhere to a number of security measures if they want to keep the dog in the city. If the owner does not want to comply with the city ordinance, he can relinquish the property, put the dog down, or take it outside the city limits.
The city has very few repeat dog bite offenders, Burdess told Newton News, telling him the vicious and troublesome dog ordinance appears to be working. However, the bigger issue is prevention and getting dog owners to take a bigger role in being responsible for their dogs’ behavior.
Residents who have dogs on the loose are also cited for those violations. Burdess said the city’s ordinance is stronger than others in the state and exceeds state code requirements. Enforcing dogs on the loose can be a challenge for police, but Burdess said a bigger problem is the lack of reporting of dog bites and assaults.
HOW OFFICERS RESPOND TO DOG BITES
The Newton Police Department has seen an influx of dog bite reports this year. Most bites reported to police involved pets biting their owner or family member, and the injuries are relatively minor. But there are some cases of people getting injured while breaking up dog fights.
“That’s not to say we don’t have incidents of a dog biting a person for no apparent reason, but it’s less common. Most of the reported injuries in recent years have been minor, but some have required medical attention,” Burdess said, noting that dog breeds vary, but appear to be pit bull and husky mixes.
After a serious dog attack in 2010, the City of Newton created an Animal Control Committee that included Newton residents, animal experts, police officers, and other professionals to review state and city ordinances. The committee also consulted legal experts in drafting the ordinance in use today, Burdess said.
In effect since 2012, Chapter 90 of the City Code has only had a few amendments over the years to strengthen or clarify the language.
“The city code is above and beyond what the state code requires for dog bite incidents and animal control. The state code requires some type of animal control measures within a municipality and allows for local control of those measures,” Burdess said, noting that the city code provides a broader range of control mechanisms.
When a dog bite is reported, an officer responds to the incident and investigates. These reports tend to come from the emergency room, a local doctor’s office, the bite victim, or the owner of the biting dog. Burdess said these cases are investigated as an assault would be.
After obtaining written statements from all parties, officers can make a decision about quarantining the offending dog. If dogs have up-to-date rabies vaccinations on file, they are generally ordered to go into a 10-day home quarantine. Otherwise, the dogs are quarantined at a veterinary office.
It is then up to the chief of police to determine if a problematic or vicious designation is applicable for the dog.
If the dog is deemed to be troublesome or vicious, the owner may have to spay or neuter the animal, provide proof of insurance, build an enclosure, wear a muzzle, vaccinate the pet, etc.
THE DOG BITES A PROBLEM AT A NATIONAL LEVEL
The city’s overall intake of dogs has been above the normal average for this time of year, Burdess said. However, the trend is not unique to Newton. Several people bought dogs during the pandemic and have decided that they can no longer care for or love the dog.
With more dogs in the community, the chances of bite incidents increase. When a loose or loose dog is caught by the police department, they are taken to Parkview Animal Hospital. Upon claiming, the owners of these dogs are subsequently cited for allowing a dog to run free, Burdess said.
According to data sent to Newton News by the police department, there have been 92 admissions to Parkview so far this year. The city also transferred 29 dogs to the ARL, already up from 27 dogs transferred to the ARL in 2021. Last year there were 172 admissions to the ARL.
Articles from Forbes, The Guardian and other media outlets published in the last 18 months suggest that Burdess’s claims of a national trend of increasing dog bites are true. Several of the articles blame the pandemic for also limiting socializing opportunities for dogs.
The city does not have a pet licensing program that ensures pets are properly vaccinated. When dogs are found not to be licensed by the city, the police department issues a citation to the owner and requires a license.
“Residents are encouraged to call the police department if they see a dog running free or witness aggressive behavior from dogs that are on a property,” Burdess said. “Although we may not always be able to do anything legally at the time, receiving notice of a potential problem gives us an opportunity to discuss concerns with dog owners.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 560 or email@example.com