Plan targets vicious dogs

Strike force would help rid county of dangers, crimes related to canines

To hear Charles Jones tell it, vicious dogs intimidate law-enforcement officers, threaten children, terrorize neighborhoods and can maim — even kill — a person for doing little more than walking down the sidewalk.

And Jones has become so sick of it that he’s organizing a Vicious Dog Strike Force to punish owners, corral dogs and run off the problems — drugs, gambling and violence — that often go with animals that either have been trained or are predisposed to fight.

It’s time, he said, for government to fight back.

“Vicious dogs may not be kept in Douglas County,” said Jones, a county commissioner. “They will be taken, they will be evaluated, and — if they are determined to be vicious — they will be destroyed.”

Under the proposal, owners of vicious dogs also would be hit with mandatory fines ranging from $500 to $1,000. Jail sentences would start at 30 days, and reach as long as six months.

Owners to blame

For Duane Elston, who owns a pit bull once picked up by authorities after a near scuffle with law-enforcement officers, it’s the least the government can do.

“If the dog is vicious and bites somebody — bites a little kid or somebody else — I wouldn’t want him around,” said Elston, whose 100-pound terrier, Cain, was deemed “not dangerous” after a Municipal Court hearing last year. “Ours plays with our grandkids and everybody else.

“That’s why I don’t breed my dog. I don’t believe in dog fighting whatsoever.”

Elston doesn’t fault a vicious dog for its behavior, though. He points the finger at the dog’s owners, adding “they’re the ones they ought to be after.”

Jones’ proposal comes from the county’s Vicious Dogs Task Force, formed after an attack on a family dog by pit bulls that had gotten loose from a residence in eastern Lawrence. Jones, who previously had heard of people helplessly watching their children either be threatened or attacked by such dogs, soon decided enough was enough.

The proposed Vicious Dog Strike Force is up for discussion June 25 by the Douglas County Commission.After that, the proposal will be considered by city governments in Lawrence, Eudora, Baldwin and Lecompton.

Task force members — including representatives of the Lawrence Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, Lawrence Humane Society and governments of Lawrence, Eudora and Lecompton — crafted a proposed law that would serve as an umbrella for existing laws in area towns.

‘Strike-force mentality’

The county’s latest target: 25 or so dogs trained either to participate in organized, illegal dog fights, or to serve as guard dogs for illegal drug activities. The dogs, Jones said, appear to rotate in care and ownership among 70 or 80 county residents.

“Our effort will only be as effective as our enforcement efforts,” Jones said, citing the need to gather intelligence, track problems and follow up with action. “We’ll take a strike-force mentality.”

Forming a special law-enforcement unit to handle vicious dogs shouldn’t cost more than $50,000, Jones said. The key is dedicating time and other resources to make the fight a priority.

Simply talking about the proposed law already has prompted at least a couple of “problem” dog owners to leave the county, Jones said.

If the proposal won approval, he said, even more could be convinced Douglas County wasn’t the place for such dogs and the violence, gambling and drugs that seemed to go along with their owners.

Lawrence Mayor David Dunfield said he was eager to review the proposal, which is scheduled for discussion at the county commission’s June 25 meeting. After that, the proposal will be considered by city governments in Lawrence, Eudora, Baldwin and Lecompton.

“It’s certainly something that the city should be on board with,” Dunfield said. “It’s an issue that we’ve seen growing over the last several years. We’re not talking about people’s pets that get loose and cause mischief. We’re talking about vicious animals that are trained to do damage.”