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Attorneys Look At Laws To Keep Dogs In Check
June 27, 2001

Published Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Richmond officials are thinking about how to keep residents safe from aggressive animals after a boy's mauling last week 

By Shawn Masten


RICHMOND -- Owners of unleashed and aggressive dogs, like the three pit bulls that savagely mauled 10-year-old Shawn Jones last week, could be subject to stronger penalties if Richmond has its way. 


City attorneys are researching whether the city can enact laws that would require special licenses for such dogs as well as impose restrictions on how the dogs are kept and handled and increase the penalties for those who leave dogs unattended or off-leash, Mayor Rosemary Corbin announced Tuesday at the City Council meeting. 


"We all agree it's a problem, not just in Richmond but across the United States," Corbin told a packed council chamber. "If we can come up with some good ordinances, I'm sure they're going to be copied all over the state." 


The question of whether the city can enact laws that better control dangerous dogs is one that city leaders have been grappling with since the June 18 attack on Shawn in the city's Iron Triangle neighborhood. 


"The bottom line is we have too many dogs running loose," said vice mayor Nat Bates, who placed the item on the council agenda at the request of concerned residents. "It's not only young people who are at risk. It's also the elderly." 


Along with the legal avenues, the city also ought to seek residents' input on how such attacks can be prevented, said councilman Richard Griffin. 


"We need to take this to the community," Griffin said. "We need to go to the people where the problem exists. Who better to tell us what to do?" 


The matter will go before the council's public safety committee, once City Attorney Malcolm Hunter completes his research, Corbin said. 


Richmond, like most cities in Contra Costa County, has adopted the county ordinance regarding unleashed dogs in exchange for services provided by Contra Costa animal control. 


The law is strong and clearly defines that dogs must be on a leash when off private property, officials said. The problem lies with people not obeying the law and with the community not calling animal control services when they see dogs roaming streets, some officials said. 


Pit bulls are a problem in Richmond, but the solution isn't new laws, Councilman Tom Butt said. 


"It's a matter of trying to change the culture of having these types of dogs," he said. "It's a fad to own pit bulls. They're a status symbol. Until we get to the point where the people in these neighborhoods are willing to say, 'It's not cool to own pit bulls in Richmond,' these incidents are going to continue." 


The Rev. Andre Shumake, president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council, thanked the council and asked for help in comforting children and others in the community still reeling from the brutal attack. 


"I stand before you with my heart heavy," Shumake said. "I appeal to you to do all that you can to maintain the safety of our senior citizens and our babies." 


For previous coverage on the pit bull mauling of Shawn Jones, log on to www.ContraCostaTimes.com/shawnjones/.