GONZALES — Ascension Parish has roughly 30 dog-bite cases each year, about half involving children.
Few of those cases, however, result in a judicial ruling declaring the offending animal “dangerous” and requiring owners to take special control measures to protect the public, parish officials said.
Since 2009, Ascension Parish has filed six petitions to have a court declare a dog as dangerous. Only two of the petitions went to a trial and garnered a dangerous dog ruling, according to parish court filings.
Underpinned by state law, the rulings required owners to build enclosures to contain the animals and to keep the animals on a leash outside the enclosures or the home under threat of the dog’s euthanasia.
The Ascension Parish Council has adopted a new dangerous dog ordinance that expands on the state law and, parish animal control officials say, gives their enforcement more teeth, including requiring owners of dogs deemed dangerous to have identification microchips implanted in the animals.
“It’s just a tool in the tool box to protect the public,” Michael LeBlanc, director of Ascension Animal Control, said of the new ordinance.
The ordinance, which the Parish Council adopted Thursday, also includes requirements that owners of potentially dangerous dogs build pens of a specific size and style of construction, keep their dogs leashed and muzzled outside the pens or the home and make their dogs wear special “dangerous dog” tags on their collars.
Jeff Dorson, executive director of Humane Society of Louisiana, said that what the parish is doing is good public policy and mirrors what other parishes have done.
“So it’s really the direction most communities are going. They want to have this level of protection when animals show aggressive behavior,” Dorson said.
East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes have dangerous dog laws. Both call for microchips, among other provisions.
East Baton Rouge Parish’s law has been on the books since 1993 and, with three tiers for classifying the danger posed by dogs, is more extensive than what Ascension just adopted.
Also, while a misdemeanor court judge in Ascension hears and rules on dangerous dog petitions after a trial, in East Baton Rouge an administrative judge oversees the trial and a three-person jury makes the ruling.
Richard Byrd, operations manager for the East Baton Rouge Animal Control and Resource Center, said owners of dangerous dogs also are required to take out $100,000 insurance policies.
Byrd said the center brings, on average, about a case per month.
In Ascension, dangerous dog cases brought to court include allegations that a dog bit a child in the face, another bit two women separately on the back of the leg eight months apart, while a group of dogs attacked a horse two times in a month.
LeBlanc acknowledged a judge can order the things the new ordinance is calling for, but said laying them out in an ordinance makes it clear what owners of dangerous dogs will face.
“We don’t have an animal problem in Ascension Parish. We have a people problem. This is more to address the people problem, not the animal problem,” LeBlanc said.
He said only a few cases go to court each year because owners surrender dogs for euthanasia or the owners move away rather than face a ruling.
State law also limits the situations eligible for dangerous dog findings.
“Just because you bite, you know, doesn’t necessarily put you into the dangerous dog category. It’s where you bite and what were the circumstances involved in that,” LeBlanc said.
For instance, dog bites on the dog owner’s property do not fall under the state dangerous dog law, he said.
Veterinarians offer microchips to customers as protection against lost animals, but LeBlanc said the microchip requirement in Ascension is backup for animal control officers.
If an animal gets loose, isn’t wearing its dangerous dog tag and is acting aggressively, the chip shows the animal’s owner and its history.
“If we have the chip in it, right away we know this dog falls under the (dangerous dog) guidelines,” he said.
Amanda Pumilia, animal control supervisor for the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New Orleans, said the microchips are no bigger than a grain of rice and are injected with a needle under the skin on the back between the shoulder blades.
Pumilia, whose nonprofit agency handles animal control for New Orleans under contract, called the procedure relatively painless.
She said some people worry the chips have GPS trackers but said the chips are associated with a 13-digit number that allows the SPCA to get the owner’s telephone number.
“It’s just like a collar with a name tag that they can never lose,” Pumilia said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.