‘Dangerous Dogs’ Tracked in Pennsylvania

Margaret Reed admits her dog can get out of control.

Inside their East Orange Street home, Oscar, a yellow Labrador/terrier mix, is territorial, Reed says. Catch him off guard, or give him reason to believe his people are in danger, and he can be fierce.

“He’s very protective,” she says.

That’s what happened in April 2012, she believes, when her husband took Oscar to the tennis courts at Buchmiller Park to play fetch.

When a park ranger came onto the court to tell them dogs weren’t allowed there, Oscar lunged. He bit down on the ranger’s leg.

Now, Oscar is permanently listed on the state registry of dangerous dogs – one of two dozen dogs on the list in Lancaster County.

The registry requires a dog’s owners to adhere to a strict list of rules, ranging from keeping their dog muzzled and leashed outside the home to paying a $500 annual fee and obtaining additional insurance.

The registry, which can be found online at the state Department of Agriculture website, lists the name, description, location and owner of each dog determined to be dangerous in Pennsylvania.

Dangerous dogs registered in Lancaster County include five German shepherds, four pit bulls and a variety of mixed breeds.

A dog can be added to the dangerous dogs list following any bite or attack incident, says Samantha Krepps, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees dog law enforcement.

“It has to be deemed dangerous by a district magistrate,” Krepps says. “The dog law enforcement office cannot deem a dog dangerous.”

A lot of variables go into the decision, she says – for instance, the judge would consider whether the dog was provoked, or if the dog was defending itself, its owner or its property.

If a dog is labeled dangerous, the dog’s owner has a choice, she explains – euthanize the dog, or keep it and pay the price that option carries.

It’s a lot, both in terms of money and responsibility, she says.

The law requires owners of a registered dog to post warning signs on their property. The dog must be kept inside the house or in an outdoor enclosure, Krepps says; off the property it must be muzzled and leashed at all times.

The dog must be microchipped and spayed or neutered.

The owner must pay $500 each year to keep the dog on the registry, she adds, and must obtain a surety bond in the amount of $50,000 and a homeowner’s policy for $50,000 against any future damages caused by the dog.

A dog remains on the registry for life, Krepps says.

“The only way off the list is if the dog dies,” she says. “If they move or they sell the dog, they have to contact the dog law enforcement office.”

The state wants to maintain a current address on the dog, she says. “And if they transfer the dog in any manner, it has to be approved by the investigating officer. Also, the new owner has to abide by all those same regulations.”

Owners also must notify the state if the dog dies, either from natural causes or euthanasia.

In the event of a second violation, Krepps says, the dog would be confiscated immediately. The dog also is seized immediately if its owner fails to live up to the provisions of the dangerous dog law.

The owner would be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $5,000 plus the costs of quarantine, euthanasia and court fees.

Karen Dinkel, the city’s animal enforcement officer, says she rarely puts a dog on the dangerous list.

In fact, Dinkel says she believes there is only one dog currently on the list that she put there.

That dog – an American pit bull terrier named Sugar, – broke loose on a walk and killed a small poodle, Dinkel says.

Most people in that position – knowing the cost of registering a dangerous dog – opt to euthanize it, she says.

The list that includes Sugar was last revised in July, although the information isn’t always up to date.

For instance, a 25th dog on the list is Max, a Dalmatian owned by Daniel Pinilla. Pinilla said in an interview in 2011 that the dog was euthanized – for reasons of age, not temperament – the previous year.

Kristen Donmoyer, director of dog law enforcement for the state Department of Agriculture, says that happens sometimes with people who were on the list before the law was amended in 2009 to require the annual fee.

State dog wardens try to keep track of dogs on the list, Donmoyer says, removing them when they die. They also sometimes make unannounced inspections of the homes to make sure the proper signage and restraints are in place.

Reed isn’t thrilled that she has to keep Oscar inside or, when they do go outside, muzzle him.

But she understands why.

“The law says, one unprovoked bite and a dog can be considered dangerous,” she says. “It’s a good law – I understand the need to police dogs that could harm someone.

“Now, we don’t take any chances – if anything ever happened, we’d be in big trouble. We’d lose him.”

Oscar is only 7, she says, so the cost of keeping him alive and registered could mount up over the next several years.

“He was a rescue dog,” Reed says. “We made a commitment to take care of him. So it’s our responsibility to take care of him, regardless.”