ELKHART — After her pit bull was shot, an Elkhart woman fought, and won, to prove to city officials that her dog is not dangerous.
Mary Ann Wainwright stood in front of the Elkhart Board of Public Safety on July 23 with photographs of her dog, Mallory, and letters from people who had met the dog previously.
The Elkhart Police Department had deemed the dog dangerous because of an incident that happened June 8. According to a report from the police department, Cpl. Michael Price was called shortly before 9 a.m. to the 2000 block of Frances Avenue in reference to three dogs running loose in the area.
The man who had called police showed the officer where the dogs were, and as they walked around the area they saw two dogs that started going toward them. According to the report, one of the dogs then charged at them, giving Price a few seconds before pulling out his gun and firing three times.
Wainwright said was in her house that morning, and she had not noticed her dogs had escaped from a hole in her fence when she heard shots. She immediately went outside.
“I saw the officer and he hollered at me and said ‘are those your dogs?’ I said yes, and he said ‘Well I just shot one of them.’ I just started screaming for Mallory. That’s all I could do,” said Wainwright.
Two of the dogs running around ran back to Wainwright’s house when she called them, but Mallory stayed behind the houses before she ran into the next-door neighbor’s house.
According to the report, Price, along with another officer, went into the house and found Mallory lying on the floor, conscious and breathing. They called the Humane Society of Elkhart County to help them get Mallory out of the house, and Wainwright took her dog to an animal clinic.
Mallory was shot on the right shoulder and on the right side of her rib cage. But she was able to walk the next day, and though many of her usual activities were restricted, she was able to make a full recovery.
ELKHART’s PET ORDINANCE
A few weeks after Mallory was shot, Wainwright received a letter from the police department stating Mallory had been deemed a dangerous dog. The letter had instructions on how to comply with the dangerous dog section of the city ordinance, which includes:
Submitting an application for a dangerous animal license.
Providing confinement within a building or secure enclosure.
Providing four photographs of the dog taken not more than a month before the date of the application.
Having the dog identified by a microchip and having the animal spayed or neutered.
Cpl. Dennis Russell, who works in the animal control unit for the police department, said the”dangerous dog” ordinance was put in place to elevate the responsibility of dog owners to take care of their pets.
The letter also stated that Wainwright had a window of time in which she could appeal in her case. And she did that.
Wainwright showed the board of public safety letters from her vet, as well as friends, that stated Mallory was a kind-natured dog.
Further, Wainwright explained to the board it was the first time her dogs had escaped, and that it was through a hole in the fence she was not aware of. She said her two dogs live indoors, and only go out to the back yard for short periods of time.
After asking Wainwright a few questions and talking amongst themselves, the board decided to grant the appeal.
Had Wainwright lost the appeal, she would have been required to comply with the ordinance.
Every dog and cat owner living within the city must each year register for a license for each pet they own. If a pet is spayed and neutered, a fee of $12 must be paid.
If a dog is deemed dangerous, the yearly fee is of $100 to renew the license.
A staff worker for the city’s controller’s office said the ordinance was created in 2010, and though the number of pets registered started strong at first, the number has decreased. In 2012, 2,412 pets were registered.
A SPLIT-SECOND DECISION
Wainwright won her appeal and happily went home to her dogs and cats. She did not file a complaint against the police department and she understands that the officer was defending himself. Yet, she can’t help but feel disturbed to think of the force that was used against her dog, she said.
When an officer feels the community or himself is threatened, he has to take action, said Russell.
“They want to go home at the end of their shift, and they want to protect society,” he said. “Usually when they discharge a weapon it’s a split-second decision.”
Russell said patrolmen are usually sent out to calls involving animals, even if the officers are not from the animal control unit. And while the owner may know their pet well, an officer does not know how it may react. The threat is more substantial when the dog is from a larger breed.
“Big dogs can cause a lot of injury,” Russell said. “And they’re not going to back down. They’re usually more apt to keep going.”
Russell said, however, that there are many more cases in which officers are encountered by well-behaved, non-aggressive dogs.
“All it takes is for people to be very responsible,” he said. “If you have a breed that has a negative stigma attached to it, then you have to be very diligent about pet-owner responsibility. You should be doing everything in your power to make sure that breed doesn’t get brought down.”