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Police push for pit-bull restrictions

Medford police urged the City Council on Thursday to put more teeth into local laws to combat the threat posed by dogs such as pit bulls.

Pit bulls — the most menacing type of dog in Medford — also are the breed of choice for drug dealers and have proven to be a threat to police, said Deputy Chief Brett Johnson.

"If we see dogs on drug search warrants, they are pit bulls," he said.

In the past three years, more than half of the 89 attacks on people and animals have been by pit pulls, according to police statistics.

The City Council appeared poised to enact some kind of local ordinance to deal with this threat but asked a police advisory committee to look at the issue before taking action.

The advisory committee will hold public hearings on the topic in the next few months and bring a recommendation to the council by April.

Some of the suggestions by police include an outright ban on a specific type of dog, such as a pit bull, or the requirement that certain types of dogs have muzzles or be enclosed in special cages.

About 20 people, many of them pit bull supporters, watched as the council debated a possible dangerous-dogs ordinance.

"My daughter is very upset about this," said Terry Mann, a 55-year-old whose daughter lives in Medford with her pit bull, Trigger.

"We've never had any trouble with Trigger," said his wife, Melinda, 55. "Trigger stays in the house all day with the cat, and they get along great."

Many councilors said most pit bull owners are responsible, and they added they hoped to find a way to deal with the minority of residents who have dangerous dogs.

Councilor Bob Strosser said he preferred an approach that would create harsher penalties on residents who continue to own attack dogs.

"In a majority of these cases, the irresponsible individuals walk away," he said.

In many cases, a vicious dog that has attacked someone is euthanized, but the owner just buys another dog to replace it.

Several councilors indicated they hoped to draft a law that wouldn't single out a particular breed, though pit bulls dominated the discussion.

Other cities in the country have banned pit bulls, while others have taken the approach that pit bulls must be sterilized.

Many Washington state communities have banned pit bulls.

Numerous communities are wrestling with dangerous-dog laws, such as Baker City, where a 5-year-old was killed in a pit-bull attack in September 2013.

In February 2011, a 9-year-old Central Point boy was severely injured when three pit bulls attacked him at his father's home.

According to the website dogsbite.org, of the 251 fatal dog attacks in the U.S. from 2005 to 2012, 60 percent, or 151, were caused by pit bulls.

Police Chief Tim George said he wants a local ordinance that will prevent attacks rather than existing laws that deal with the situation after the attack.

George said officers have been bitten by pit bulls in the past and have changed tactics on drug raids accordingly.

Officers can readily tell if a dog is a pit bull, he said.

"If it looks like it, acts like it and walks like it, it is one," George said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.