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October 29, 2013

State revising list of dangerous dogs

NEW CASTLE — The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has identified more than 700 potentially dangerous dogs in the Commonwealth.

That’s more than 10 times the number disclosed by the department when the Dog Law Enforcement Office was audited earlier this year.

But Monday, the Department of Agriculture conceded its staff is unsure if all the 729 dog owners deserve to be identified as owners of dangerous animals.

No dogs in Lawrence County are registered as dangerous.

The 729-dog list was posted on the department’s website, but the information was removed Monday after the newspaper asked a spokeswoman to explain what being named on the list meant.

The information was removed while staff double-check to make sure some of the people were not individuals who had been subject to a complaint but were later acquitted of any charges, said Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Samantha Krepps.

The agency’s tally included 563 cases described as “open,” and another 166 cases where the dog was described as being “registered” dangerous.

Krepps said the “open” cases would include those in which charges have been filed, but a district judge has not yet determined that the dog deserves to officially categorized as dangerous.

Krepps said one of the challenges facing the agency is that the state receives dangerous dog complaints from a variety of sources — including state dog wardens, local police and animal welfare groups. Information indicating the dog owner may have been later vindicated does not always arrive in a timely manner. In addition, the agency is also supposed to be notified if the dog is euthanized, but that information may be slow in coming too.

A dangerous dog is one that has attacked, inflicted severe injury to, or killed a human being or a domestic animal without provocation while off its owner’s property. In Pennsylvania, a designation as a dangerous dog brings with it strict requirements for owners, including: paying an annual $500 fee, muzzling the animal whenever it’s off the owner’s property, obtaining at least $50,000 in liability insurance and posting signs warning about the animal.

The Agriculture Department’s Dog Law Enforcement Office was criticized by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale after auditors determined only 65 dogs were included in the state’s dangerous dog registry. The auditors wrote: “department officials admitted that its list of dangerous dogs is likely incomplete since it contains only 65 dogs statewide.”

A spokesman from the state auditor general’s office said investigators there were never told that the Agriculture Department had a more comprehensive listing of potentially dangerous dogs.

Krepps said the shorter registry only includes dangerous dogs owned by people who are fully complying with the law. The shortcoming of that list is that it wouldn’t include people who have moved without notifying the Agriculture Department or failed to renew the dangerous dog license.

Before the department staff decided to remove the comprehensive dangerous dog list from public view, Krepps said the Agriculture Department wanted citizens to have full access to information about potentially dangerous dogs, that’s why the listing of 729 dogs was produced.

Among the individuals included in the state’s latest tally of dangerous dogs was a Somerset County man whose Rottweiler attacked four children in 2007. Robert Holsopple of Friedens, and his Rottweiler, were not named in the list of dangerous dog cases at the time the state audit was released this summer. But Holsopple and his dog Rocko are included in the more comprehensive list, described as “case still open.”

(Email: jfinnerty@cnhi.com)

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