Vicious dogs shouldn't have to attack a human before action can be taken against them and their owners.
Any dog that would attack and kill a small dog certainly is capable of causing serious injury to a human.
That's why an incident last week in which two pit bulls killed a Yorkshire terrier being walked on a leash should serve to alert local law enforcement officials. Unfortunately, it's not a huge leap to imagine dogs that could kill a Yorkie also being capable of killing a baby or small child or causing serious injury to an adult.
The owners of the pit bulls involved in Friday's incident were cited for damage to property, allowing dogs to run loose without a leash and having no proof of a rabies vaccination. City ordinances only hold the owner of an attacking dog responsible for the actual monetary value of the victim dog and for any veterinary bills. That's hardly adequate compensation for the owner of a beloved pet. Dogs can be placed under quarantine after they attack a human, but wouldn't it be to everyone's advantage to identify and deal with vicious dogs before such an attack occurs?
The director of the Lawrence Humane Society reports that she has met with the city prosecutor and the police department's animal control officer to discuss changes to the city's vicious dog ordinance. Such changes might be good, but they will have little effect if they are not adequately enforced.
Dealing with dogs running loose has been a perennial issue for many of the small towns in this area. The problem within the Lawrence city limits is less severe, but incidents such as the one last week point out that it does exist and has the potential to pose a significant danger.
Dogs that tear into neighbors' trash bags are a nuisance; dogs that are interested in tearing into other animals or even humans are another matter. Responsible dog owners have their dogs trained and under their control at all times to prevent any mishaps. Owners who don't take on that responsibility should be punished accordingly.
And those penalties can be stiff. A Milford woman was convicted in Geary County of unintentional second-degree murder after her failure to control her Rottweiler dogs resulted in the death of an 11-year-old boy. The Kansas Supreme Court heard an appeal of her conviction on Tuesday and is expected to announce in July whether the conviction should be overturned or the woman required to serve her 12-year sentence.
City officials are right to consider tougher penalties for dogs that kill or injure other dogs. While they're looking at animal control issues, they also should consider additional enforcement measures to prevent an even more tragic dog attack against a human victim.