By Maggie Lee, contributor
The Atlanta City Council has unanimously approved legislation that’s meant to cut down on the chances of dog attacks.
“While this change in the law is likely to have little solace to the victims and their families, it is my hope that our update of our laws will help prevent an attack within our communities from happening again,” said Atlanta City Council member Keisha Lance Bottoms, in a written statement after council passed her legislation on June 5.
In January, one boy was killed and a girl was injured in a dog attack in Atlanta.
The new ordinance updates and expands laws that already address aggressive animals, nuisances, and animal protection.
For example, under the new rule, a dog may be considered “dangerous” if it’s aggressive enough, whether or not it “severely” injures anyone. The law specifies how owners need to house such pets — in a pen with warning signs on it as large as a piece of paper. Owners of the most vicious dogs will also need to carry $75,000 of insurance to cover any property damage or injury their animal may inflict.
Very specific definitions are important to the folks who investigate animal cruelty and deal with aggressive animals on Atlanta’s streets.
The law creates a category of “pubic nuisance animal” that can include aggressive dogs found at large, said Rebecca Guinn, CEO of LifeLine Animal Project, which is the animal control provider and shelter manager for Fulton County.
That “gives us more tools to deal with public safety,” Guinn said. But she also pointed out that the new law more clearly defines things like “abandonment” and “adequate” housing.
“It gives us some stronger tools to combat animal cruelty and that’s important to us,” she said.
The changes make Atlanta’s laws consistent with state and Fulton County laws.
One thing the law doesn’t do is call out or ban any particular dog breed.
“We’re pleased with it,” said Nichole Dandrea-Russert, community manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Atlanta, part of a national organization that aims to get all animals into safe homes and to end the killing of dogs and cats in shelters.
She said that Best Friends supports a safe and humane community for people and pets.
“We do believe that the focus of any ordinance should be on the behavior of the dog and the behavior of the owner, and we’re really pleased that the Atlanta City Council rejected breed discrimination, that they’re really focused on the behavior of the dog, the behavior of the owner,” Dandrea-Russert said.